Duda Farm Fresh Foods Inc. fined by OSHA

BELLE GLADE — The U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has cited Duda Farm Fresh Foods Inc. for exposing employees to workplace safety hazards after a worker required medical treatment due to an anhydrous ammonia leak in the farm’s packaging house. The company faces $95,472 in penalties.

The inciting incident occurred back on Nov. 23 when Palm Beach County Fire Rescue (PBCFR) crews responded to a call at the 6000 block of Duda Road at 12:30 p.m. about an 800-gallon tank that had began leaking ammonia.

PBCFR were called after an employee at Duda’s packing house facility in Belle Glade complained of difficulty breathing, causing the building to be evacuated. Crews arrived and around 12:45 p.m., were able to shut off the valves, stopping the leak.

OSHA cited the farm for failing to develop procedures for notifying employees of emergencies and evacuation, and a written emergency response plan; and failing to provide safety and health training to employees operating ammonia refrigeration systems, and ensure that employees required to respond to ammonia releases were provided a full-face respirator fit test. The inspection is covered under OSHA’s National Emphasis Program on Process Safety Management Covered Chemical Facilities.

According to OHSA, liquid anhydrous ammonia causes destruction of delicate respiratory tissue in the lungs.

Exposure to ammonia vapor may cause, convulsive coughing, difficult or painful breathing, pulmonary congestion, or even death.

“This incident reveals the harm that can result when chemical facilities fail to comply with worker safety regulations,” said OSHA Fort Lauderdale Area Director Condell Eastmond. “Employers are required to conduct a process hazard analysis to review what could go wrong, and what safeguards must be used to prevent releases of hazardous chemicals.”

The company has 15 business days from receipt of the citations and proposed 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.

Donna Duda, director of corporate communications & family relations for Duda Fresh, says no workers were injured in the incident.

“At the time of the incident no workers at the facility were injured,” Mrs. Duda said. “One employee was treated on site and then transported to the hospital for observation in the emergency room. The employee was subsequently released from observation with approval to return to work at full duty.”

Duda Farm Fresh Foods requested an informal conference with OSHA which was held on June 4. Following the conference OSHA requested that Duda provide a written response to the citation. Mrs. Duda says the company is continuing an informal dialog with OSHA, and that the outcome of this dialog will determine if the company will contest the fines. The deadline to contest is June 13.

“Continuous improvement is the cornerstone of any safety plan,” Mrs. Duda concluded. “Since the incident occurred, we have improved several safety processes and procedures. We have expanded employee training and retraining procedures and refined our emergency action plan. We have also addressed or corrected the items listed in the OSHA citation.”

Richard Marion is a staff writer and photographer at Lake Okeechobee News and can be reached at rmarion@newszap.com.

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