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Spokane business fined more than $150k for exposing employees to ammonia leaks

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March 17, 2017 #17-007

Tumwater – Lack of emergency planning for ammonia leaks put workers at Johanna Beverage Company of Spokane in harm's way three times in the past year. As a result, the Department of Labor & Industries (L&I) has fined the business $154,000 for multiple willful, serious and general workplace safety violations. 

In each of the incidents, when the leaks occurred, employees were unsure what to do, which way to run to escape the corrosive vapors and how to call for emergency help.

In one situation last August, panicked employees ran downwind of the leak into the vapor cloud. Eight employees were exposed; one was sickened and taken to the hospital.

L&I has cited the company for two willful violations, each with the maximum legal penalty of $70,000. The beverage business has also been cited for two serious violations with a $7,000 penalty, also the maximum.

The first willful violation is for not developing a comprehensive written emergency response plan on what to do in the event of an ammonia leak. The plan should include information on communication, pre-emergency planning, and drills.

After the disorganized response to the first leak in December 2015, the local fire department advised the company to call 9-1-1 sooner and to prepare a detailed employee emergency evacuation plan. However, months later there were two more ammonia leaks, also with disorganized evacuations, poor communication and miscommunication with the fire department.

The second willful violation was cited for not providing employees with emergency response training that specifically addressed what to do during an ammonia leak. That citation was also for not designating and training specific employees to assist in a safe and orderly evacuation.

One of the serious violations Johanna Beverage was cited for was for not providing an ammonia alarm system to alert employees when they need to evacuate the work area. The second serious violation was for not ensuring that voluntary use of respirators was done safely. During a hazardous situation, improper use of a respirator can result in a serious injury or even death.

A serious violation exists in a workplace if there is a substantial probability that worker death or serious physical harm could result from a hazardous condition. A willful violation can be issued when L&I has evidence of plain indifference, a substitution of judgment or an intentional disregard to a hazard or rule. 

The employer has 15 business days to appeal the citation.

Penalty money paid as a result of a citation is placed in the workers' compensation supplemental pension fund, helping injured workers and families of those who have died on the job.

For a copy of the citations, please contact Public Affairs at 360-902-5413.

For media information: Elaine Fischer, 360-902-5413 or

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