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'Red tag' violations trigger state shutdown of
Nautilus seafood refrigeration plant in Valdez

June 19, 2004

Valdez, Alaska - Alaska Department of Labor and Workforce Development officials Thursday night ordered that refrigerated fish processing be shut down immediately at the Nautilus Foods seafood processing plant in Valdez after a potentially lethal toxic gas release.

The shutdown will remain in force until nearly a dozen "red tag" safety violations alleged by state inspectors are fixed and brought into compliance with code.

On Sunday, June 13, a fitting reportedly popped loose on an ammonia tank, allowing the toxic gas to escape into the plant. Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation officials reported the toxic gas leak and alerted the labor department's office of Occupational Safety and Health.

OSH officials were dispatched to Valdez and initiated a detailed inspection, including identifying "red tag" violations, infractions that pose a serious risk to the health and life of plant workers.

The accident also prompted a federal investigation, and immigration and customs officers from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security arrested 14 illegal Nautilus Foods workers from Mexico.

Acting OSH Chief John Stallone said the inspection disclosed 11 dangerous red tag violations. A red tag violation is an infraction considered serious enough to pose a significant danger to the life or health of plant workers.

The alleged Nautilus red tag violations included an ammonia warning alarm that had been turned off prior to the accident. Valdez Fire Department officials requested that the ammonia alarm be turned back on after they evacuated workers from the plant.

Labor Commissioner Greg O'Claray said the quick and orderly evacuation was a major factor in preventing serious injuries. He added, "Every Nautilus worker who got out safe and sound should shake the hand of a Valdez firefighter."

The commissioner said the Murkowski administration is determined to avoid a disaster similar to an accident in 1998 when an ammonia leak led to an explosion at a Homer fish processing plant.

O'Claray said, "The Homer and Valdez violations are eerily similar. An ammonia leak is dangerous, potentially lethal and one such accident was more than enough."

Stallone said the Nautilus plant shutdown will take about 24 hours to complete and the investigation will be ongoing. In the meantime, he cited the following alleged red tag violations at the Nautilus facility in Valdez:

  • Repeated uncontrolled releases of ammonia
  • Lack of ammonia alarms to protect sleeping workers in a bunkhouse
  • Inadequate ammonia release emergency action plan
  • Valves and solenoids found defective
  • Shut-off valves located between pressure vessels and pressure safety valves
  • Ventilation system inadequate to handle an uncontrolled release of ammonia in the mechanical room
  • Main shut-offs for ammonia system not labeled
  • Egress from ammonia machinery room impaired
  • Valdez Fire Department evacuated the plant after notification by a worker; plant supervisors failed to evacuate the plant
  • Ammonia alarm disabled prior to the latest release and not turned on until requested to do so by the Valdez Fire Department
  • No emergency shut-off devices located immediately outside the ammonia mechanical room

Source of News Release:

Alaska Department of Labor & Workforce Development
Web Site



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