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Archive for the ‘JBS Swift’ Category

Today at approximately 10:00 A.M. a portion of the JBS Swift plant was evacuated due to an ammonia leak. The Worthington Daily Globe was on the scene and covers the story in 40 JBS employees treated after ammonia leak.  Daily Globe photographer Brian Korthals was able to take a few pictures from the roof of  a vehicle just outside the JBS property (we watched you from the cafeteria windows).

I was one of the many evacuees who hastily left the building and fortunately was not affected by ammonia. The group of employees I was with were at the back of the property for about 35 minutes when we were told we could reenter the building through the front and proceed to the facilities cafeteria which was unaffected by the leak.  I was then able to get a better idea of what was going on because I had a good view of all the emergency vehicles that were gathered outside the front of the building. My thoughts were with the brothers and sisters who were being transported to the hospital. I hoped that they would all be ok and according to published reports most were treated and released with only a few admitted for further observation. The leak was contained and after the affected areas were cleared of the ammonia we returned to work.

UFCW Local 1161 officials were on the scene and will be actively involved in the ensuing investigation of the cause of the leak and the effectiveness of the evacuation. I have my own observations and thoughts which I will share with the Local 1161 and JBS Swift.

Ammonia leaks are serious.

They can be deadly.

Once the cause of this leak is accurately determined, it is extremely important that preventative measures be taken to prevent its recurrence. A critical look at evacuation procedures is also necessary to determine if the evacuation could have been done better. Hopefully the end result will be a safer workplace.  Of course, I am sure MNOSHA will have a role in the investigation. The state OSHA officials investigated an ammonia leak at this plant in January of 2008 which resulted in the JBS Swift receiving a citation and a nominal fine. I wrote about that incident in a previous post, JBS Swift workers evacuated. Workers were evacuated and hospitalized during that incident also and the cause of the leak was determined to be a faulty valve.

I have been involved in several evacuations over the years and once got a shot of ammonia.  My eyes, nose, throat and lungs were immediately in distress and I couldn’t get fresh air fast enough. I turned out ok (well, some may say my brain was affected). It is something I will never forget. I do not live in fear of an ammonia leak but I am acutely aware of its deadly potential. I hope I never experience another one.

Peace & solidarity,

CHC

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Sunday I wrote about Minnesota Attorney General Lori Swanson and the unrest in her office. I also offered a message to the AG. Today I am not surprised but certainly distressed that the AG has put assistant attorney general Amy Lawler on administrative leave. Once again, Eric Black at MinnPost.com has the story. MPR’s Tim Pugmire also reported on the Lawler administrative leave. The audio is here. Pugmire reports:

Swanson sent a packet of information to DFL Legislative leaders this week insisting that state law prevents attorneys in her office from unionizing. She also claimed union organizers have been using a common tactic to stir the pot as their campaign falters.”

Sounds like she has been reading the union busters handbook instead of the text of the Employee Free Choice Act. If the Minnesota law needs to be changed then she should be advocating for that change to allow her staff to freely make their own choice and should not be standing in the way.

While many people are probably not following these events real close or don’t really care, I must confess that I have a certain fondness for the Office of the Attorney General and what they have done in the past to make my life safer. If you have read some of my earlier posts you would know that I work in the meat packing industry. In the mid 90’s MNOSHA came to Worthington to do a wall to wall inspection at the Swift & Co. plant where I work. After a thorough inspection the company was cited for numerous safety violations, many of them serious. Of course the company challenged these citations and was prepared to fight it in court. I won’t bore you with many details but the Attorney General’s office was able to reach a settlement agreement with Swift & Co. (now JBS Swift). The settlement agreement allowed MNOSHA and the AG’s office to monitor abatement progress over a three year time period. As the head of the union safety committee at the time I had the privilege to work with a number of assistant AG’s. They were persistent. They were efficient. They were professional. They were not intimidated by the highly paid and arrogant corporate lawyers who would try anything to get out of compliance with the law. My workplace was made much safer and the corporate attitude on safety turned around because of the efforts of the Attorney General’s office and MNOSHA. The unions efforts alone could not have accomplished that and thousands of workers have benefited.

I am grateful.

 

Peace & solidarity,

CHC

 

 

 

 

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According to the published report in the Worthington Daily Globe, Ammonia leak sends JBS Swift workers to hospital, 25 workers were sent to Worthington Regional Hospital and 9 workers were transported to Sanford Luverne Community Hospital. The ammonia leak apparently occurred a little before 10:00 p.m. Tuesday night. Normally I would have first hand information on this because JBS Swift is where I work but since I took a vacation day today I had to read about it in the paper.

Hopefully the workers exposed to the ammonia will not have any long term health problems. An ammonia leak  is serious and can be very deadly if immediate action is not taken to evacuate anyone who could be exposed. Many years ago (I’ve been there 23 years) I had the experience of being involved in an ammonia leak at the Swift plant. I did not require any medical treatment but remember vividly the burning sensation in my eyes and throat as I was momentarily exposed to a blast of leaking ammonia. The employees were also evacuated during that leak.

MNOSHA has been been informed of the incident according to JBS Swift human resources manager, Jenny Anderson-Martinez, but is unsure if they will make a visit to investigate. I hope they do come and investigate and review the company’s Process Safety Management (PSM) program. The federal OSHA website says this about the PSM standard:

Unexpected releases of toxic, reactive, or flammable liquids and gases in processes involving highly hazardous chemicals have been reported for many years in various industries that use chemicals with such properties. Regardless of the industry that uses these highly hazardous chemicals, there is a potential for an accidental release any time they are not properly controlled, creating the possibility of disaster.

To help ensure safe and healthful workplaces, OSHA has issued the Process Safety Management of Highly Hazardous Chemicals standard (29 CFR 1910.119), which contains requirements for the management of hazards associated with processes using highly hazardous chemicals.

Since JBS Swift uses huge amounts of ammonia as a refrigerant they must comply with the PSM standard. This standard is meant to protect the workers and the surrounding community since an accidental release could drift into populated areas. There are miles of piping and hundreds of valves in the system at JBS Swift so it requires constant monitoring, preventive maintenance,  training and updating. You can not be too vigilant with this system because the potential for disaster is so high if there is a major failure. Again, I hope MNOSHA makes a visit to do a hands on investigation so that we have complete answers to what caused this leak and what steps are being taken to prevent another incident. I certainly be asking a lot of questions.

Peace & solidarity

CHC

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