published on February 5, 2018 - 1:53 PM
Written by The Business Journal Staff

The federal government has reached an agreement with a Sanger winery over a 2012 incident when an ammonia release led to the death of one of its workers.

Gibson Wine Co. will pay a $330,000 civil penalty and will be required to make a series of improvements to its facility valued at about $300,000, according to a news release. The agreement with the Department of Justice and U.S. Environmental Protection Agency resolves environmental violations related to the release of anhydrous ammonia.

“Facilities using extremely hazardous substances such as ammonia must abide by federal laws to protect the safety of workers, emergency responders, and the community to avoid such deadly or other serious accidental chemical releases,” said Alexis Strauss, EPA’s Acting Regional Administrator for the Pacific Southwest. “This case is part of EPA’s high-priority work to reduce the risks of accidental releases at industrial and chemical facilities through compliance assistance and enforcement of good chemical management practices.”

More than 280 pounds of the volatile chemical were released in the September 2012 incident, when a temporary employee was exposed to the gas and asphyxiated. According to a report from the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration, a cellar supervisor became distracted in conversation and inadvertently opened a valve that caused oil and liquid ammonia to discharge, forming a gas cloud that reached nearby common areas of the facility.

EPA performed an inspection of the facility in January 2013 and noted the following:

— The lack of readily available devices designed to prevent a release of ammonia from oil drain lines

— Inadequate operating procedures and insufficient employee training to assure that employees understand and adhere to the operating procedures.

— The lack of labeling that would allow operators to identify ammonia refrigeration system pipes and equipment.

Under the terms of the settlement, the company will install a computer control system for its anhydrous ammonia refrigeration system, with automated controls and alarms; move one of its ammonia refrigeration systems to a safer location that is farther away from employee bathrooms, offices, and a breakroom; conduct an audit of ammonia refrigeration equipment to identify any further improvements that Gibson Wine must undertake; and label refrigeration pipes and equipment.

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