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Sorrento to challenge OSHA fines for 13 alleged safety violations

Sorrento Lactalis said it will challenge $241,000 in proposed fines from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration for 13 alleged workplace health and safety violations at its Buffalo plant.

OSHA said an inspection by its Buffalo-area office identified "several deficiencies" in the South Park Avenue cheese plant's process safety management program, which contains requirements and procedures that employers must follow to "proactively" address hazards related to large amounts of hazardous chemicals. The chemical in this case was anhydrous ammonia, used in the plant's refrigeration system.

The requirements of OSHA's process safety management program "are designed to prevent a catastrophic incident, such as the uncontrolled release of highly hazardous chemicals, by having employers effectively evaluate, anticipate, address and prevent hazardous conditions associated with processes utilizing those chemicals," said Arthur J. Dube, OSHA's area director, in a statement. "Full and effective adherence to the standard's requirements is critical to guarding the safety and health of employees."

Sorrento Lactalis, which employs 520 people in Buffalo, will contest the citations. "In particular, the company denies and strenuously objects to OSHA's allegation that there exists any imminent safety hazard at the Buffalo facility," the company said in a statement. "We look forward to working with OSHA to clarify and resolve these allegations in an expeditious manner."

Sorrento Lactalis said it is committed to the "safety and well-being of its employees" and to complying with federal and state laws in operating its business.

"At Sorrento Lactalis, we have always taken our responsibilities as an industry leader very seriously," the company said. "The health and safety of our employees, facilities and local environment are the No. 1 priority of the company."

OSHA said its investigation found a "lack of procedures and tests to maintain the ongoing mechanical integrity of process equipment, no written procedures to manage changes to the equipment, incomplete written operating procedures, and a failure to document that process equipment complies with recognized and generally accepted good engineering practices."

Sorrento Lactalis has scheduled an informal conference with OSHA about the citations for later this month.