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Russell Stover candy firm cited after factory ammonia leak

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A Missouri candy company has been deemed a severe violator of workplace safety standards and is facing $193,600 in proposed fines from federal regulators after an ammonia release shut down one of its manufacturing facilities.

The U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration cited Kansas City, Missouri-based Russell Stover Candies Inc., a unit of Switzerland-based Lindt & Sprüngli Group, for a September 2015 incident in which an air conditioning unit pipe failed and released about 22 pounds of anhydrous ammonia into the air throughout the facility, according to a news release issued by the agency on Thursday.

No workers were injured in the incident, which closed the plant for more than two hours, but ammonia can be a health hazard because it is corrosive to the skin, eyes and lungs, is a flammable vapor, and can be fatal if inhaled, according to the agency.

The citations involve OSHA's process safety management standards, which contain requirements for the management processes using highly hazardous chemicals. Russell Stover was cited by the agency for three repeat, 14 serious and two other-than-serious safety violations, including failing to establish and implement written procedures to maintain the ongoing integrity of process equipment and failing to follow recognized and generally accepted good engineering practices in its inspection and testing procedures, according to the citations.

The company was also placed in OSHA's Severe Violator Enforcement Program, which focuses resources on inspecting employers who, according to the agency, have demonstrated indifference to their Occupational Safety and Health Act obligations through willful, repeated or failure-to-abate violations.

“When highly hazardous chemicals are not properly controlled there is a potential for an accidental release at any time which could result in a tragedy,” Judy Freeman, OSHA's area director in Wichita, Kansas, said in a statement. “Employers such as Russell Stover who use ammonia and other hazardous chemicals in their production process need to comply with recognized engineering practices, test equipment and train workers on safe operating procedures.”

"Russell Stover Candies has received an OSHA notice of citation, dated March 30th, based on a September 2015 incident at our plant in Iola, Kansas and a subsequent inspection conducted by OSHA. For almost 100 years, employee and consumer safety has been, and will continue to be, vital to Russell Stover Candies. We are presently reviewing the allegations and will work with the U.S. Department of Labor to ensure that all appropriate actions are taken to protect our employees", a spokeswoman for Russell Stover said in a statement.