Tyson Foods hit with OSHA fine, ammonia leaks

by The City Wire staff ([email protected]) 399 views 

Tyson Foods got a double dose on Monday (Feb. 6)  when its Berry Street chicken processing plant reported an ammonia leak from a freezer line resulting in the evacuation of 400 workers. Of those, 10 were sent to the hospital for observation.

Tyson spokesman Worth Sparkman confirmed the ammonia leak occurred on the west side of Berry Street plant about 9:30 a.m. About an hour later the Springdale Fire Department had cleared the plant for re-entry. However, Sparkman said Tyson’s environmental health and safety team will further survey the plant before allowing work to resume.

Also on Monday, the Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA) made public its investigation from a June gas leak at the same plant. OSHA cited Tyson with a serious offense saying not all employees understood the labeling system used in the facility. A Tyson worker incorrectly mixed two chemicals which created a chlorine gas that was transmitted throughout the plant. OSHA closed the investigation in December and fined Tyson $7,000 for the accident, according to Elizabeth Todd, regional director for OSHA.

The total costs to the company far exceed the proposed fine. The June accident sickened 172 workers, 60 or so were hospitalized for multiple days and five were bad enough to require intensive care for respiratory serious issues.

Tyson Foods provided the following statement:
The citation the company received for last June’s incident, which has been resolved with OSHA, involved the management of certain chemicals used in the plant and was unrelated to the ammonia refrigeration leak that happened today. Since last June’s incident, we have placed additional controls over who has access to production-related chemicals at the plant. We also continue to emphasize effective training for those people who are authorized to handle such chemical compounds.

All of the workers who were admitted to the hospital as a result of the June incident at the Berry Street plant did return to work.

One of our top priorities as a company is always for the safety and well-being of our team members. While we acknowledge there typically is a monetary cost associated with such incidents, we don’t disclose estimates related to those costs.

A few blocks away, Cargill’s turkey processing plant on Randall Wobbe Lane was also evacuated around 9:30 on Monday from a “major” ammonia leak.

Cargill spokesman Michael Martin said the accident was caused when “some routine work was being done in an area we call the engine room, it’s where the ammonia is located. Ammonia is used as a refrigerant in our meat processing facilities.”

Human error is to blame for the leak, according to Martin.

He said no injuries resulted from the release and the company is working to determine how much ammonia escaped. Martin said Cargill expects plant operations to resume by mid afternoon.