Department of Labor Logo OSHA News Release - Region 5

June 18, 2023

After Sandusky pork processing facility workers seek medical treatment for ammonia exposure, federal investigators identify 43 safety violations

OSHA again finds J.H. Routh Packing Co. exposing employees to hazards

SANDUSKY, OH – A Sandusky pork processing facility exposed workers to a release of ammonia gas, leading the U.S. Department of Labor to open two inspections and issue 43 violations of federal regulations.

Investigators with the department’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration opened inspections at HK Cooperative Inc., operating as J.H. Routh Packing Co., in December 2023 and January 2024 after a local government agency notified OSHA that two workers suffered exposure to ammonia gas during maintenance of a refrigeration system.

Opened under the agency’s Regional Emphasis Program for food manufacturing, the inspections identified a wide range of safety concerns for which OSHA issued 40 serious violations and two other-than-serious violations and one repeat violation. The company also received one repeat violation for exposing employees to amputation and other serious hazards due to inadequate point-of-operation guarding on a meat saw.

The agency has assessed J.H. Routh Packing Co. with $528,441 in proposed penalties.

“Every day, people employed in food manufacturing operations face serious safety and health hazards. Unsafe exposure to ammonia in refrigeration can irritate the respiratory tract, eyes, and nasal passages. At high levels, ammonia exposure may even be fatal,” said OSHA Area Director Todd Jensen in Toledo, Ohio. “J.H. Routh Packing Co. and other Ohio food industry employers must review their procedures to continually protect workers from preventable injuries and allow them to end their work shifts safely.”

OSHA cited the company with serious violations for hazards that included the following:

  • Lack of fall protection.

  • Inadequate permit-required confined space procedures.

  • Lockout/tagout procedures for machines.

  • Electrical safety related work practices.

  • Unsafe electrical equipment and installations.

  • Lack of personal protective equipment.

  • Noise exposure.

  • Lack of an emergency eyewash/shower.

  • No hazard communication plans.

  • Failure to mark all exits.

  • Lack of lockout devices.

  • Unsafe walking working surfaces and stairways.

HK Cooperative’s previous OSHA citations include a serious violation in March 2024 for failing to protect employees from bloodborne pathogens and assessed a $13,828 penalty, which the employer is currently contesting. In November 2023, violations were issued for electrical hazards, machine guarding and for improperly maintained tools.

HK Cooperative Inc. slaughters hogs for pork product and animal feed production and employs about 372 workers in Sandusky.

Learn more about OSHA and hazards associated with ammonia refrigeration, machine guarding and the control of hazardous energy.

The company has 15 business days from receipt of its citations and penalties to comply, request an informal conference with OSHA’s area director, or contest the findings before the independent Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission.


Media Contacts:

Scott Allen, 312-353-4727,
Rhonda Burke, 312-909-6630,

Release Number: 24-1082-CHI