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February 17, 2020
OSHA seeks $128,004 penalty from farm

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) cited a Georgia farm for forklift, General Duty Clause, hazardous waste operations and emergency response (HAZWOPER), and walking-working surface violations following an employee fatality.

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OSHA cited Pearson Farm LLC with a total of 10 serious safety and health violations after an employee suffered fatal injuries at the farm's postharvest operations facility in Fort Valley, Georgia. The agency proposed penalties of $128,004.

“Employers must assess their workplaces to identify hazards and take corrective actions to eliminate serious or life-threatening injuries and illnesses,” OSHA’s Atlanta-East Acting Area Director Condell Eastmond said in an agency statement.

OSHA investigators determined that an employee, who was performing maintenance on a conveyor system, was caught between the load on a forklift and a metal railing. Agency officials also cited Pearson Farm for exposing workers to amputation, chemical, and fall hazards.

OSHA said Pearson Farm failed to provide an early warning system to detect anhydrous ammonia leaks; develop and implement an emergency response plan; adequately train workers to respond to a potential release of anhydrous ammonia; provide effective machine guarding; or develop, implement, and utilize lockout/tagout procedures.

The employer exposed employees to burn and inhalation hazards from anhydrous ammonia due to a potential accidental or uncontrolled release in the compressor room, according to OSHA. The agency referred Pearson Farm to the International Institute of Ammonia Refrigeration’s (IIAR) ANSI/IIAR 2-2014 Standard for Safe Design of Closed-Circuit Ammonia Refrigeration Systems for specific guidance. OSHA suggested Pearson remedy the anhydrous ammonia hazard by providing an ammonia detector connected to an alarm system capable of activating audible and visible alarms.

OSHA recommended that Pearson install at least one ammonia detector in the room where the refrigeration system is housed that can alert employees and supervisors when there is a concentration of 25 parts per million (ppm) or higher with alarms both in the room and located outside each entrance.

The agency cited Pearson for the anhydrous ammonia hazards under the General Duty Clause of the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970.

Violations of specific standards cited included:

  • Control of hazardous energy for failing to protect workers from amputation and electrical hazards by not developing, implementing, and utilizing lockout/tagout procedures during maintenance and repair of compressors, conveyors, and cooling towers;
  • HAZWOPER for failing to develop an emergency response plan for handling an accidental or uncontrolled release of anhydrous ammonia in the ammonia refrigeration system for fruit storage and water cooling or provide first-responder operations training for hazardous materials technicians;
  • Machine guarding for lack of machine guards on various chains, conveyors, pulleys, shafts, and sprockets, exposing employees to amputation and laceration hazards;
  • Powered industrial trucks because plastic fruit crates stacked on industrial truck forks obscured forklift operators’ view of the direction of travel, exposing employees to crushed and struck-by hazards; and
  • Walking-working surfaces standards for employees on surfaces 4 feet (ft) or more above a lower level without a protected side or edge and elevated walkways that exposed workers to 8-ft falls.
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