A check valve in a food plant’s pump room leaked about 9 pounds of anhydrous ammonia on Oct. 21 and an ammonia sensor in the pump room did not sound an alarm as expected, said officials at the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA).

After receiving complaints from employees, OSHA inspectors found deficiencies in Reinhart Food Service LLC’s Process Safety Management (PSM) program and the company is now facing $72,000 in fines.

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The PSM program is a comprehensive and effective program that covers every aspect of any process in the workplace involving large amounts of highly hazardous chemicals. In this case, the process is the facility’s refrigeration system which uses 27,500 pounds of anhydrous ammonia.

Reinhart is the fourth largest foodservice distributor in the U.S., serving independent restaurants, delis, sporting venues, schools, nursing homes, hospitals, the military and chain accounts.

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“The leak was relatively small but the consequences could have been enormous. Exposure to even as little as 300 parts per million of anhydrous ammonia is immediately dangerous to life and health. An uncontrolled release can be lethal and catastrophic,” said Kenneth Shedden, OSHA’s area director for Boston and southeastern Massachusetts.

The deficiencies included:
• Inadequate procedures for inspecting, testing and replacing valves and ammonia sensors consistent with the manufacturer’s recommended safety procedures
• Not ensuring ammonia sensor alarms worked properly
• An inadequate emergency response plan
• Not ensuring employees who responded with and provide support to hazardous materials technicians demonstrated competency
• Not taking adequate precautions to identify responders’ maximum exposure limits to ammonia

“For the health and well-being of its employees, Reinhart Food Service must correct these deficiencies and maintain an effective ongoing process safety management in the future,” Shedden said.

OSHA’s inspection also found two hazards similar to those cited during earlier inspections of Reinhart’s New Bedford and Taunton facilities: Unsecured and inadequately anchored large steel commercial storage racks that could have fallen and struck or crushed employees and unclosed openings on electrical cabinets and boxes.

As a result of its findings, OSHA cited Reinhart Food Service for six serious and two repeated violations of workplace health standards.

Founded in 1972, in La Crosse, WI, Reinhart Food Service’s headquarters is in Rosemont, IL. The company operates 29 distribution centers nationwide, and a USDA-inspected fresh meat processing facility.

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