The U.S. Department of Labor's Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has cited Solo Cup Company for 19 alleged serious violations of safety standards at its North Andover, Mass., production plant. The company faces a total of $70,000 in proposed fines, chiefly for deficiencies in the plant's process safety management (PSM) program.

PSM encompasses a detailed set of requirements and procedures employers must follow to proactively assess and address hazards associated with processes and equipment that use large amounts of hazardous chemicals, in this case the flammable gas difluoroethane, used in the production of styrofoam plates.

OSHA's inspection found that the plant's difluoroethane system was operated with inadequate or incomplete process safety information; its operating procedures had not been reviewed and updated to be current and reflect changes in the process; safe operating procedures had not been developed for certain tasks; there were not written procedures to maintain the mechanical integrity of piping, pumps and other system equipment; there was inadequate employee training; there were inadequate testing procedures; employees were not informed of process changes; there was a failure to investigate fires that occurred on the system; and there was a lack of emergency response training. Separately, two electrical substations were not guarded to prevent their being damaged by fork trucks.

"The consequences of a leak or other incident involving large amounts of a hazardous chemical such as this can be severe and catastrophic," said Paul Mangiafico, OSHA's area director for Middlesex and Essex counties. "That makes it imperative for employers to rigorously, completely and continuously scrutinize, update and properly maintain each element of the process to minimize hazards and protect workers' safety and health."

OSHA issues serious citations when death or serious physical harm is likely to result from hazards about which the employer knew or should have known. Detailed information about OSHA's PSM standard is available online at www.osha.gov/SLTC/processsafetymanagement/index.html.

The company has 15 business days from receipt of the citations to comply, request an informal conference with the OSHA area director, or contest the citations and proposed penalties before the independent Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission.