The U.S. Department of Labor's Occupational Safety and Health Administration has proposed a total of $214,500 in fines against High Liner Foods Inc. for 17 alleged violations of workplace health and safety standards at the company's Portsmouth, N.H., seafood processing plant. The company is mainly cited for a failure to address deficiencies in its anhydrous ammonia piping system used for freezing.

OSHA's inspection found that the company did not properly inspect and test the piping system, which was corroded and encased in ice in many locations. Also, it did not correct previously identified deficiencies in the system. For these conditions, OSHA has issued the company two willful citations, carrying $140,000 in proposed fines. OSHA defines a willful violation as one committed with plain indifference to or intentional disregard for worker safety and health.

"Failing to inspect and test the ammonia piping system and take corrective action exposes workers to the possibility of an ammonia leak or similar severe or catastrophic incident," said Rosemarie Ohar, OSHA's area director for New Hampshire. "For the health and safety of their workers, employers must proactively assess and address hazards associated with processes and equipment that use large amounts of ammonia or other hazardous chemicals."

OSHA also determined that the plant failed to label and identify piping systems, remove frost and ice accumulations from piping, properly locate relief valves, ensure that the main ammonia shutoff valve was accessible, ensure that an exit door opened to the outside, conduct compliance audits, inspect and test the mechanical integrity of process equipment, provide workers with hand protection and make process safety information available. These conditions resulted in nine serious citations, with $44,500 in fines. OSHA issues serious citations when death or serious physical harm is likely to result from hazards about which the employer knew or should have known.

High Liner Foods also has been issued one repeat citation and a $25,000 fine for not properly calibrating equipment used to inspect and test compressors and cryolators. This citation follows an identical hazard cited by OSHA at the company's Danvers, Mass., plant in 2009. Finally, five other-than-serious citations with $5,000 in fines have been issued for incomplete or inadequate recording of occupational illnesses and injuries.

The company has 15 business days from receipt of its citations and proposed penalties to comply, meet with OSHA's area director or contest the findings before the independent Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission.