The U.S. Department of Labor's Occupational Safety and Health Administration has cited American Seafoods International LLC for 15 alleged willful and serious violations of safety and health standards at its New Bedford, Mass., processing facility. The seafood company faces a total of $279,000 in proposed fines, chiefly for deficiencies in its process safety management program.

A PSM encompasses a detailed set of requirements and procedures employers must follow to proactively address hazards associated with processes and equipment that use large amounts of hazardous chemicals. In this case, the chemical was anhydrous ammonia in the Bedford plant's refrigeration system.

OSHA's inspection found that the plant's PSM program was incomplete, lacked operating procedures and did not provide for adequate inspections of process equipment. These conditions resulted in the issuance of three willful citations with $195,000 in proposed fines. OSHA defines a willful violation as one committed with plain indifference to or intentional disregard for employee safety and health.

"The requirements of OSHA's PSM standard are stringent and comprehensive because an ammonia leak could have a severe or catastrophic effect on the plant's workers," said Brenda Gordon, OSHA's area director for Boston and southeastern Massachusetts. "In this case, American Seafoods International knew that aspects of its PSM program were incomplete or inadequate and did not take steps to address those deficiencies. It is imperative that this employer scrutinize, update and properly maintain each element of the process to minimize hazards and protect its workers' safety and health."

The inspection identified other PSM hazards that resulted in 12 serious citations, with $84,000 in proposed fines. These conditions included failing to update process safety information, conduct an incident investigation of a January 2001 ammonia leak, certify or evaluate the PSM program every three years as required, establish and implement procedures to maintain changes in the process, and provide and document employee training. 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.

American Seafoods International has 15 business days from receipt of the citations to comply, meet with OSHA or contest the citations and proposed penalties before the independent Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission.