OSHA Issues $1 Million in Penalties for Pipe Deaths at Xcel Plant

Less than six months after the tunnel fire that killed five people and injured three others at a hydroelectric plant in Georgetown, Colo., OSHA yesterday proposed more than $1 million in penalties against two companies involved. The agency issued $845,100 in penalties against RPI Coating Inc. of Santa Fe Springs, Calif., and $189,900 in proposed penalties against the Public Service Co. of Colorado, doing business as Xcel Energy, for alleged serious and willful violations surrounding the incident.

"This catastrophe could have been avoided if the companies had followed their critical safety procedures," said OSHA's Assistant Secretary of Labor Edwin Foulke Jr. "There should never be such a disregard for the safety of employees. Today's citations should serve as a reminder to all employers about the critical need to always provide a safe and healthful workplace for their employees."

The incident happened Oct. 2, 2007 at the Xcel Energy Cabin Creek hydroelectric plant in Georgetown, about 45 miles west of Denver. Employees were in a tunnel cleaning a sprayer with a flammable solvent when vapor from the solvent ignited, causing the fire. Four employees escaped, but five employees working deeper inside the tunnel were trapped and died due to asphyxiation. The tunnel is several thousand feet long and connects two reservoirs with electricity-generating turbines.

RPI has received 13 willful citations with proposed penalties totaling $778,500. These include three per-instance willful citations alleging that RPI brought electrical equipment into the tunnel that was not safe because it could ignite the solvent. RPI also has received 10 willful citations alleging the unsafe handling of flammable liquids, failure to provide employees with adequate ventilation, failure to install carbon monoxide alarms, failure to arrange for emergency response in the event of an accident, failure to train on worksite chemical hazards, and failure to have fire extinguishers in the work area. It also has received 25 serious citations with penalties totaling $66,600 that include alleged fall hazards, the unsafe storage of flammable liquids outside the tunnel and improper respiratory protection.

Xcel has been issued two willful citations with proposed penalties of $126,000 for failing to take precautions to protect its own employees from hazards in the tunnel and to arrange for rescue services. Xcel also has received 19 serious citations with proposed penalties totaling $63,900, which include alleged fall hazards, the unsafe storage of compressed gas and electrical hazards. The companies have 15 business days from the receipt of the citations to request an informal conference with OSHA's area director or to contest the citations and proposed penalties before the independent Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission.

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