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OSHA Cites Boston, Massachusetts Seafood Wholesaler for 20 Serious Violations After Employee Suffered Fatality from Ammonia Leak

Employees who are injured at work may be entitled to compensation. Under Massachusetts law, with limited exceptions, employers in the Commonwealth with one or more employees must have a valid workers’ compensation policy.  Benefits include medical care and partial wage replacement, and they also protect the employer from potentially harmful lawsuits.

The United States Department of Labor and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (“OSHA”) protect the rights of workers throughout the United States.  Recently, a Boston fish and seafood wholesaler was cited by OSHA and issued proposed fines for failing to follow industry and OSHA standards.  One employee was fatally overcome by an ammonia leak in March 2015, which was caused by a burst pipe in the machine shop. OSHA noted that the seafood wholesaler failed to abide by both industry and OSHA safety standards.

OSHA inspected the site and discovered that the machine shop’s deficient design and lack of proper operation and maintenance for the ammonia refrigeration system exposed the fatally injured employee as well as other employees to a “catastrophic” release of ammonia.  The company was cited for 20 serious violations of workplace safety and health standards.

The company was found to have failed in multiple areas central to keeping workers safe.  The wholesaler did not ensure that ammonia was properly contained in the machine room, since there were holes in the floor and no separation of the machine room from a maintenance/storage room.  The ammonia vapor could easily spread.  Additionally, the wholesaler failed to test and adjust ammoniac sensors, according to the recommendations of the manufacturer.  Ammonia piping was not properly labeled, nor was there an adequate ventilation system that would serve to prevent the potential explosion of ammonia vapors.

In the ammonia machine room, OSHA noted that the alarm system did not work. The employer had not trained employees in how to respond in an emergency evacuation scenario.

The OSHA director for Boston and southeastern Massachusetts stated that the wholesaler must take effective action to correct the hazards and prevent a recurrence.  Failing to follow OSHA and industry standards exposed workers to hazards associated with an ammonia release, as well as dangers associated with falls, hazardous chemicals, electric shock, and an obstructed exit during an emergency.

Upon inspecting the seafood wholesaler, OSHA noted other conditions that exposed employees to potential hazards.  Door openings lacked sufficient guards and guardrails, ladders were defective, and there was an unmarked door that led to a 17-foot drop.  Containers of hazardous chemicals were not labeled or inventoried, and employees were not adequately trained in chemical hazard communication.  Finally, OSHA noted that there were electrical hazards, including improper use of equipment and wiring, such as extension cords used in place of permanent wiring.

The company received a proposed fine of $173,168.  Within 15 days of receiving the citations and proposed penalties, the company was required to meet the OSHA area director or contest the findings.

If you or someone you love has suffered injuries at work in Boston or the surrounding area, you may be entitled to compensation. Consult a skilled workers’ compensation attorney and maintain your right to benefits.  Financial support and protection can be achieved through workers’ compensation remedies. Contact (617) 263-0060 and set up your free consultation, or complete our online form.

More Blog Posts:

Employer Pier 1 Imports fined $86,000.00 by OSHA for multiple safety hazards, Boston Workers’ Compensation Attorney Blog, October 27, 2015

Furniture Company fined 123K due to multiple health and safety violations, Boston Workers’ Compensation Attorney Blog, June 15, 2016

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