American Seafoods International LLC, based in New Bedford, MA has 15 days to pay or appeal fines totaling $279,000 imposed by the U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA).

OSHA is fining the seafood company for health and safety violations relating to “process management safety (PMS).  The federal government worksite safety agency says the seafood company’s violations are “willful and serious.”

The Bedford company’s PSM addresses the use of anhydrous ammonia in the seafood processor’s refrigeration system.  OSHA said it was  “incomplete, lacked operating procedures and did not provide for adequate inspections of process equipment”.

Because of those shortfalls, OSHA imposed fines of $195,000.  OSHA inspectors found 12 additional serious violations for which it proposed fines of $84,000.  Safety information was not updated and a 2001 ammonia leak was not investigated.

OSHA’s most serious violations are those involving where “death or serious physical harm is likely to result from hazards about which the employer knew or should have known”.

OSHA said the ammonia leak could have a severe and catastrophic effect on the seafood workers, and required a stringent and comprehensive PSM standard.

“In this case, American Seafoods International knew that aspects of its PSM program were incomplete or inadequate and did not take steps to address those deficiencies, said Brenda Gordon, OSHA’s Boston-based area director. It is imperative that this employer scrutinize, update and properly maintain each element of the process to minimize hazards and protect its workers’ safety and health.”

American Seafoods’ land-based processing in Massachusetts involves ground fish including value added seafood and scallops.  It is a unit of American Seafoods, one of the largest integrated seafood companies in the U.S., based in Seattle.