Utility District Cited in Arc Flash Explosion at Hydroelectric Dam

L&I cited the utility district for five serious violations and for each assessed the maximum penalty of $7,000.

The Washington Department of Labor & Industries (L&I) has fined Grant County Public Utility District #2 $35,000 for five serious safety violations after investigating an explosion at its Priest Rapids Dam on the Columbia River in Beverly, Wash. Six workers were hospitalized with serious electrical burns after the explosion last October, according to the agency's news release.

The workers were troubleshooting a mechanical problem with a generator and "did not know that a circuit had been re-energized when they closed a breaker, which caused the high-voltage electrical arc flash explosion," L&I reported, adding that its investigation found that the arc flash could have been prevented if the employer had ensured safety locks and safeguards were used to prevent the breaker from being closed when other parts of the circuit were energized.

L&I cited the utility district for five serious violations and for each assessed the maximum penalty of $7,000. The investigation found that:

  • The district did not ensure the use of lockout/tagout devices to prevent inadvertently closing a breaker that could cause an arc flash.
  • Employees were not briefed on the circuit conditions that affected them and exposed them to the risk of burns and electrocution.
  • Employees were unaware the lockout/tagout devices had been removed from the circuit.
  • One worker was not wearing fire-resistant clothing while working on the hydroelectric equipment.
  • The district did not provide any records to show it complied with the state regulation on protecting workers from injury due to hazardous energy.

The utility district has 15 days to appeal the citation. Penalty money paid as a result of an L&I citation is placed in the workers' compensation supplemental pension fund, helping workers and families of workers who have died on the job.

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