OSHA fines Echo Lake $150,000 for safety violations

The U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration has fined Echo Lake Foods Inc. in Burlington for violations related to a fire at the plant on Jan. 30.

OSHA fines for 27 safety violations at both the Burlington facility and another frozen food production plant in Yorkville amounted to $150,000.

According to OSHA, it received complaints about the ammonia refrigeration systems at Echo Lake’s plants. Part of the Burlington refrigeration system was destroyed in the fire, which crippled the facility but did not seriously injure any employees.

Most of the violations for both Wisconsin facilities were for “not addressing the consequences of the failure of various engineering and administrative controls.” In addition, employees were not trained on draining oil from the ammonia compressors, and any training on operating the ammonia systems and related equipment was not documented.

The Burlington facility was also cited for four serious violations, which are those that carry a substantial probability of death or serious physical harm from a hazard an employer knew or should have known about. They were: insufficient guardrails on platforms, inadequate exit routes, no emergency eyewash station near the compressor room and missing cover plates on electrical switches.

In Yorkville, there was a serious violation for not certifying that inspections of hazardous energy control procedures had been completed.

“By disregarding OSHA’s standards to train employees on ammonia hazards, compressors and safety procedures, Echo Lake Foods endangered workers at both its Wisconsin facilities,” said Christine Zortman, OSHA’s area director in Milwaukee. “OSHA is committed to protecting workers on the job, especially those exposed to hazardous materials, and educating employers about safety and health regulations.”

Founded in 1941, Echo Lake makes precooked and frozen egg products, waffles, pancakes and other breakfast items. The company had about 800 employees and $150 million in annual sales before the fire. It now has 450 employees at the Wisconsin facilities and a plant in Owensboro, Ky.

Some of the approximately 300 displaced Burlington employees transitioned to the Yorkville plant and others have received assistance from the Racine County Workforce Development Center.

The company has 15 business days from the time it receives the OSHA citations to contest them and the proposed penalties.

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