- Department of Labor investigators found 12 serious safety violations at the Schoep's Ice Cream plant in Madison, Wisconsin, including an ammonia outbreak that it failed to prevent, according to a Jan. 29 press release.
- Occupational Safety and Health Administration officials inspected the plant in August 2023 following a complaint that workers were being exposed to anhydrous ammonia. The inspection found that workers were exposed to the substance due to a lack of sufficient process safety management procedures. Ammonia exposure can cause respiratory injuries and burns to the skin and eyes.
- The agency proposed $145,097 in penalties for citations including a lack of sufficient safety procedures to control hazardous substances, as well as a lack of lockout and tagout procedures and machine guarding.
The ice cream manufacturer is now cooperating with OSHA to address the safety violations, according to Joshua Winkler, head of sales and marketing at Brothers Desserts, which acquired Schoep’s Ice Cream in October 2021.
“We are committed to taking the necessary steps to ensure the highest standards of safety in our workplace,” Winkler said in an email.
More than 250 employees work at the plant.
Exposure to ammonia is dangerous even at low levels given that it is corrosive to the skin, eyes and lungs and is flammable in certain concentrations, according to OSHA.
Schoep’s Ice Cream isn’t the only food manufacturer that has had issues with updating equipment and safety procedures to guard against the hazardous substance.
In July 2023, food producer Taylor Farms New England paid $650,000 in civil penalties after an ammonia leak at its North Kingstown, Rhode Island, plant sent more than a dozen workers to the hospital.
“Employers must continually evaluate their engineering processes and train workers on how to safely operate equipment,” OSHA Area Director Chad Greenwood said in a statement regarding Schoep’s Ice Cream’s violations. “Every employer should embrace safety and health as a core value in their establishment.”
The Schoep’s Ice Cream incident underscores OSHA’s efforts in recent years to prioritize safety procedures in food manufacturing, particularly as injury rates rise in the industry.
In 2022, OSHA established regional emphasis programs for the food manufacturing industry in Ohio, Illinois and Wisconsin to better protect food processing workers.
The program is aimed at reducing injuries and fatalities in the food manufacturing industry related to inadequate safety guards or a lack of training.
The project began after OSHA found that food production workers in Ohio in 2019 had a nearly 57% higher rate of amputations and 16% higher rate of fractures compared to the overall rates for manufacturers in the private sector. In Illinois, workers experienced an approximately 29% higher rate of amputations and a 14% higher rate of fractures when compared to rates for private sector manufacturing jobs.
Schoep’s Ice Cream parent company AJLS Enterprises has 15 business days to respond to the OSHA citation, comply, request an informal conference with OSHA’s area director or contest the findings after it received the notice on Jan. 12.