Nautilus seafood refrigeration plant in Valdez
June 19, 2004
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:
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