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U.S. Department of Labor | May 9, 2016 BOS 2016-072

Ammonia leak, alarm failure at Taunton food products distribution center
highlights potentially deadly chemical hazard
Reinhart Food Service LLC faces $72K in OSHA penalties

BRAINTREE, Mass. - Responding to a complaint from employees at a Taunton facility operated by one of the nation's largest food service distributors, the U.S. Department of Labor's Occupational Safety and Health Administration found that a check valve in the food plant's pump room leaked about 9 pounds of anhydrous ammonia on Oct. 21, 2015. Inspectors also found the ammonia sensor in the pump room did not sound an alarm as expected.

OSHA's inspection identified several deficiencies in Reinhart Food Service LLC's Process Safety Management* program, 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.

"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 that ammonia sensor alarms worked properly.
  • An inadequate emergency response plan.
  • Not ensuring that 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," said Shedden.

OSHA's inspection also identified 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 on April 20, 2016, for six serious and two repeated violations of workplace health standards. The company faces a total of $72,000 in proposed penalties. The citations can be viewed here*.

Founded in 1972, in La Crosse, Wisconsin, Reinhart Food Service is based in Rosemont, Illinois. The company operates 29 distribution centers nationwide, and a USDA-inspected fresh meat processing facility.

To ask questions, obtain compliance assistance, file a complaint, or report amputations, eye loss, workplace hospitalizations, fatalities or situations posing imminent danger to workers, the public should call OSHA's toll-free hotline at 800-321-OSHA (6742) or the agency's Braintree office at 617-565-6924.

Under the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970, employers are responsible for providing safe and healthful workplaces for their employees. OSHA's role is to ensure these conditions for America's working men and women by setting and enforcing standards, and providing training, education and assistance. For more information, visit http://www.osha.gov.

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Media Contact:

Ted Fitzgerald, 617-565-2075, fitzgerald.edmund@dol.gov
James C. Lally, 617-565-2074, lally.james.c@dol.gov

Release Number: 16-930-BOS

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