ABI faces $92,400 fine after OSHA alleges ‘serious safety violations’

ABI's brewery in Columbus, Ohio

AB InBev (ABI) faces a $92,400 fine after OSHA alleged multiple serious safety violations at its Ohio brewery relating to ammonia systems, claims the brewer denies.

The US Labor Department's Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) cited ABI (rather its US division Anheuser-Busch) for two repeat and eight serious safety violations after inspecting the ammonia refrigeration system at its Columbus brewery.

Proposed penalties total $92,400 for alleged violations under OSHA's Process Safety Management Standards for managing highly hazardous chemicals at work.

Embarrassingly, the citations are ABI's second set inside 18 months. As we reported in April 2013, the brewer faced an $88,000 fine after OSHA said it failed to protect Houston brewery workers from exposure to carbon dioxide and other workplace hazards.

ABI has 15 business days to respond to the citations - it can either comply, request a talks with OSHA or contest findings before an independent Occupational Safety & Health Review Commission.

As yet it is unclear which option will take, although it seems as if ABI is keen to talk, with a statement yesterday afternoon stating: "Safety is always our top priority and we look forward to working with OSHA to further improve our systems and resolve this matter."

That said, ABI does not admit the violations, claiming an exemplary safety record and insisting: "We are disappointed with the citations from OSHA and do not agree with the substance or classification of the claims alleged".

Anhydrous ammonia - used by the brewer as a refrigerant - is one chemical covered under these standards, for it is corrosive to skin, eyes and lungs and is flammable.

Deborah Zubaty, OSHA area director for Columbus, Ohio, said the brewer had failed to implement an engineering process to ensure the safe operation of its refrigeration systems in terms of detecting and controlling ammonia releases.

"Exposure to ammonia can have serious health consequences. Failure of these systems, such as over-pressurization, can result in explosion and fire," Zubaty said.

"Workers should not be put at risk because this company failed to implement the required protections," she added.

OSHA inspected the brewery on February 4 2014 and found that ABI had not developed procedures for normal and emergency shutdown/restart of refrigeration systems.

The administration claims that ABI's process hazard analysis failed to completely address the dangers of over-pressurization and ammonia release, and also address engineering controls and their potential failure.

Furthermore, the brewer did not install ammonia detection systems or a continuous emergency ventilation system.

The two repeat citations relate to ABI's failure, OSHA claims, to properly document the ammonia refrigeration system and the building ventilation design for use in emergencies, a carbon copy of 2010 violations at its site in Cartersville, Georgia.

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