PotashCorp contesting citations for violations

Published 12:37 pm Sunday, April 25, 2010

Community Editor

The N.C. Department of Labor recently cited PotashCorp for six violations of the Occupational Safety and Health Act of North Carolina, with proposed penalties totaling $30,400.
The citations were issued following an ammonia leak at the company’s Aurora plant in October 2009 that left 18 people with inhalation problems and sent 17 others to the hospital. The accident caused a partial evacuation of the plant.
In response to the citations, PotashCorp requested an informal conference with the Labor Department to discuss the fines and settle the case, according to Dolores Quesenberry, department spokeswoman.
Quesenberry said, as is normal protocol, a company has 15 working days upon receipt of a citation to do one of three things:
• Request an informal conference with the Labor Department, as PotashCorp initially did.
• File a notice of contest with the OSH Review Commission of North Carolina (an independent board appointed by the governor to hear appeals or review citations).
• Pay the penalty.
PotashCorp and the department did not resolve the citations during the informal conference, therefore, the department issued a no-change letter, leaving the citations in effect.
On April 1, PotashCorp moved to contest the citations, putting the case in the hands of the OSH Review Commission.
Civil penalties for OSH violations are included in the Occupational Safety and Health Act of North Carolina in the General Statutes. The maximum penalty for each serious violation is $7,000. The General Statutes note that the Labor Department has to take into consideration various factors such as the size of the business, the good faith and cooperation of the employer and the history of previous violations. The penalties are not designed in any way to make up for injuries suffered or the loss of life, according to Quesenberry.
PotashCorp’s violations include:
• The piping system was not provided with labels to indicate the contents or direction of flow. The proposed penalty is $5,600.
• The process safety information pertaining to the equipment in the process did not include the piping and instrument diagrams. The proposed penalty is $5,600.
• The process hazard analysis did not address the hazards of the process. The proposed penalty is $5,600.
• The standard operating procedures for the anhydrous ammonia rail car offloading rack did not address how the operator was to inspect the coupling or ensure that the coupling was serviceable. The proposed penalty is $5,600.
• The employer did not establish and implement written procedures to maintain the ongoing mechanical integrity of process equipment. The proposed penalty is $5,600.
• The ammonia offloading rack, including the coupling on the liquid ammonia offloading arm, had threads that were worn, resulting in the coupling coming apart, releasing more than 8,000 pounds of ammonia.
• The alarm system for evacuation voice alert was unintelligible in all locations within buildings on the plant site. The proposed penalty is $2,400.
The department’s inspection of the Aurora plant was carried out Oct. 10, 2009. PotashCorp was issued the citations, all listed as “serious,” on Jan. 28.
Asked for comment on the company’s protest of the citations, Michelle Vaught, public affairs manager at PotashCorp Aurora, issued this written statement: “We can’t provide any additional comment at this time since the process with the N.C. Department of Transportation is ongoing.”