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News NCDOL fines Norton Creek Farms for August carbon monoxide incident

The North Carolina Department of Labor's investigation into the August incident at Norton Creek Farms that resulted in one death and multiple injuries has resulted in an $8,400 fine for business owner Wayne Moss. After being overcome with carbon monoxide, Bobby Ammons, 57, a worker at Norton Creek Farms was pronounced dead.

The Occupational Safety and Health division of N.C. Department of Labor's report found that Norton Creek Farms was in violation of two NCDOL policies.

According to Neal O'Briant, spokesperson for the NCDOL, the report was issued on Oct. 31, and Norton Creek Farms now has 15 working days to file an appeal with the state to contest the NCDOL's findings.

Moss has also been given until Nov. 27 to bring Norton Creek Farms up to full compliance with the policies that were found to be in violation.

Civil penalties for OSH violations are included in the Occupational Safety and Health Act of North Carolina in the General Statutes. The maximum penalty for each serious violation is $7,000. The General Statutes say that the Labor Department has to take into consideration various factors such as the gravity of the violation, the size of the business, the good faith and cooperation of the employer, and the history of previous violations.

The penalties are in no way designed to make up for loss of life. By law, the civil money penalties collected by the N.C. Department of Labor are not the receipts of the department, but rather must be remitted to the Civil Penalty and Forfeiture Fund, which then distributes the monies to the public school systems. Fines are issued to penalize the offending employer but also to get the attention of other employers with similar work environments.

According to the citation report, Norton Creek Farms failed to make copies of the conditions of employment available to all employees and fail to maintain a place of employment free from hazards that were causing or likely to cause death or serious physical harm to employees.

The NCDOL reported that allegedly, “A Nissan LPG fueled forklift, with a by-product of carbon monoxide, was being used to load enclosed trailers, and employees had received no training on the hazards of carbon monoxide created by propane fueled forklifts in spaces without adequate ventilation.”

Shortly before 7 p.m. on Friday, Aug. 2, Carolyn Ammons made a call to 911 to report that she had entered the building at Norton Creek Farms and found two workers down inside a semitruck trailer. One man was on the forklift and the other was on the ground.

Two civilians, Marvin Mashburn and Clyde McCall stopped at Norton Creek Farms and removed the two men who were later identified as Bobby Ammons, 57, and Melvin Lands, 43, from the truck.

According to Matt Mason, assistant chief of Clarks Chapel Fire and Rescue, the two workers were found in a truck that was in a refrigerated packing house where fruits and vegetables are stored. The men were working to fill a blackberry order and were placing the order in the back of a semi-truck that was pulled up to the farm's loading dock. Ammons suffered cardiac arrest and was pronounced dead at Angel Medical Center in Franklin. Lands was airlifted to Greenville (S.C.) Memorial Hospital and was released the following Monday night.

In addition to the two Norton Creek Farms employees, Mashburn, McCall, three Macon County Sheriff's deputies and 10 other emergency personnel were transported to Angel Medical Center for treatment and were released the same night

"When I arrived on scene, I noticed that the people who got there before me were starting to get sick," said Mason. "They were sweating and throwing up. I took control of the scene so that [Clarks Chapel] Fire Chief Tim Keener and our other assistant chief could leave to receive treatment."

According to Mason, everyone who was treated was found to have extreme levels of CO in their system, confirming that the cause of the incident was, in fact, a CO leak.

Sheriff Robbie Holland reported that a delivery truck had been parked at the building for two hours. Holland said that the emergency personnel, although not in the enclosed area with the forklift, were working in the opening of the building, putting them in the direct line where the fumes would have been escaping. All doors leading to the outside were closed at the time.

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