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Health and safety bosses accuse Macduff Shellfish of endangering workforce in wake of ammonia leak

Health and safety chiefs have accused bosses at a Mintlaw-based fish processing plant of failing to protect their workforce.

The Health and Safety Executive has been investigating Macduff Shellfish ever since a major ammonia gas leak earlier this year.

Emergency services were called to the Station Road premises at 6.23am on May 1 after safety checks identified there was a hazard.

Around 150 members of staff were evacuated from the factory as firefighters from across Aberdeenshire were scrambled to deal with the leak.

At the time, Macduff Shellfish stressed its adherence to safety procedures and its many levels of checks and measures.

But it emerged yesterday that HSE has issued two improvement notices and told the firm a lack of safety procedures had breached four laws.

It also said a lack of training on emergency procedures had endangered employees’ lives.

The safety watchdog found the company had breached four sections of the law, including the general duties of employers to their employees and others; regulations on procedures for serious and imminent danger and for danger areas; and arrangements to deal with accidents, incidents and emergencies.

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The notice reads: “You have not established and given effect to appropriate procedures to be followed in the event of serious and imminent danger to persons at work and those who may be affected off-site, created by the release of ammonia from the refrigeration system.

“Information and training on the emergency procedures and the relevant roles and responsibilities has not been provided.”

It adds that the firm did not have “appropriate arrangements for the effective planning, organisation, control, monitoring and review of the planned maintenance and breakdown repair activities for the plant and machinery on site”.

The first of the two notices, which were served at the end of May, has to be improved by July 9 and the second by August 27.

At the time the investigation was launched, a spokeswoman for Macduff Shellfish said: “We had an ammonia leak that is now under control.

“We safely evacuated all of our staff from the factory and followed the safety procedures in place.

“There would have been probably 150 on shift at the time our safety checks detected the issue.

“We’ve an awful lot of checks and measures in place that identify any problems 
and that’s how we were alerted.

“Ammonia is used in the factory as part of the freezing process.

“There were a few disruptions but after running safety checks yesterday afternoon we got back into the factory and we’re fully back up and running today.”

Despite several attempts to contact Macduff Shellfish, directors were unavailable to comment on the notices yesterday.

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