CANTON, GA. –The US Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) cited Pilgrim’s Pride Corp. after an investigation found that the company might have prevented a January 2022 ammonia leak if required safety standards were followed. 

The agency said the incident resulted in two workers being hospitalized and 50 people evacuated from the Canton, Ga., poultry processing plant. One person was treated at the scene.

 OSHA proposed $110,630 in penalties. 

Inspectors from OSHA found that uncontrolled temperature and pressure conditions on an ammonia refrigeration system contributed to the ammonia release. Liquid and vapor ammonia were dispersed in the air and engulfed the emergency exit doors that discharged outside. 

“The failures identified in this case are inexcusable,” said Joshua Turner, area office director in Atlanta-East for OSHA. “This incident should serve as a reminder to employers of their legal obligation to maintain a complete and up-to-date process safety management program, and ensure workers are trained on the dangers of hazardous chemicals and the importance of following safety precautions.”

The agency issued nine citations for inadequately implementing and maintaining the process safety management program for controlling anhydrous ammonia hazards in industrial refrigeration systems. 

OSHA specified in its report that Pilgrim’s failed to:

  • Confirm a pre-startup safety review before introducing a highly hazardous chemical into an existing process and include instructions to address process deviations.
  • Train workers on the physical and health hazards of anhydrous ammonia.
  • Ensure exit signs were properly illuminated and clearly identified.
  • Maintain safe walking and working surfaces. 

Pilgrim’s can request an informal conference with OSHA’s area director, contest the findings before the independent Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission or comply within 15 business days.

The company did not respond to a request for comment at the time of publication.