IOLA, Kan. – An air conditioning unit pipe failed at a Russell Stover candy manufacturing facility in September 2015, releasing several pounds of anhydrous ammonia into the air and forcing the evacuation of hundreds of workers as emergency alarms sounded.
Although no workers were injured by the leak, the incident prompted a federal investigation of the Kansas plant that uncovered multiple safety violations, many of which put employees at serious risk of injury and death and landed Russell Stover Candies Inc. in the Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s (OSHA) Severe Violator Enforcement Program.
The violations for which OSHA cited the company on March 31 involve OSHA’s process-safety management standards, which set rules for managing processes using highly hazardous chemicals.
Anhydrous ammonia, widely used as a refrigerant in industrial facilities, is one such chemical federal safety regulators require employers to handle properly. Ammonia is highly corrosive to the skin, eyes, and lungs, and it can cause serious chemical burn injuries. It is a flammable vapor, and can be fatal if inhaled.
“When highly hazardous chemicals are not properly controlled there is a potential for an accidental release at any time which could result in a tragedy,” said Judy Freeman, OSHA’s area director in Wichita. “Employers, such as Russell Stover, who use ammonia and other hazardous chemicals in their production process need to comply with recognized engineering practices, test equipment and train workers on safe operating procedures.”
OSHA said that it cited Russell Stover with three repeat violations, 14 serious violations, and two additional safety violations deemed “other than serious.” Proposed penalties for the violations were set at $193,600.
Headquartered in Kansas City, Mo., Russell Stover Candies is one of the nation’s oldest chocolate companies and leading manufacturers of pralines and seasonal candies. The Lindt & Sprüngli Group, a German-based candy manufacturer of the Lindt, Whitman’s, and Ghirardelli brands, owns Russell Stover Candies.
Source: U.S. Department of Labor