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Florida farm company faces proposed $95,000 OSHA fine for ammonia release incident

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At 25,000 square feet, the world's first indoor vertical farm is also one of the largest farms. Located 120 miles south of Seoul, South Korea, fruits and vegetables grow without soil, bathed in light from pink LEDs.

The owners of a Belle Glade farm might contest a proposed $95,472 OSHA fine after receiving eight citations from an ammonia release incident in the farm’s packinghouse.

OSHA cited Belle Glade company Duda Farm Fresh Foods for, among other things, not having an ammonia release employee alarm that would let employees escape; inadequate safety and health training for employees working with the ammonia refrigeration system; and not properly medically evaluating employees who have to use full face respirators.

“This incident reveals the harm that can result when chemical facilities fail to comply with worker safety regulations,” said OSHA Fort Lauderdale Area Director Condell Eastmond. “Employers are required to conduct a process hazard analysis to review what could go wrong, and what safeguards must be used to prevent releases of hazardous chemicals.”

Duda’s Director of Corporate Communications and Family Relations Donna Duda wrote in an email to the Miami Herald that OSHA made three site visits after Nov. 23 incident, which Duda described as an “ammonia release below the reportable threshold.”

“At the time of the incident, no workers at the facility were injured,” she wrote. “One employee was treated on site and then transported to the hospital for observation in the emergency room. The employee was subsequently released from observation with approval to return to work at full duty.”

Duda wrote the company had an informal conference with the area OSHA director Tuesday and are still determining if they’ll officially contest the violations by Thursday’s filing deadline.

“Since the incident occurred, we have improved several safety processes and procedures,” Duda’s email read. “We have expanded employee training and retraining procedures and refined our emergency action plan. We have also addressed or corrected the items listed in the OSHA (Citation and Notification of Penalty).”

Duda ran afoul of OSHA at its Belle Glade facility one other time in the last five years. In 2015, Duda paid an $8,100 fine for two machine safety violations.

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Since 1989, David J. Neal’s domain at the Miami Herald has expanded to include writing about Panthers (NHL and FIU), Dolphins, old school animation, food safety, fraud, naughty lawyers, bad doctors and all manner of breaking news. He drinks coladas whole. He does not work Indianapolis 500 Race Day.

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