Cal/OSHA: Gas Explosion that Killed 5 Was 'Completely Preventable'

The California Department of Industrial Relations' Division of Occupational Safety and Health (Cal/OSHA) has cited several companies for alleged violations that contributed to a Nov. 9, 2004, gas explosion that killed 5 workers and seriously injured 4 others, the agency announced May 5.

The companies involved included East Bay Municipal Utility District; Kinder Morgan Energy Partners LP; Comforce Technical Services; Mountain Cascade Inc.; Matamoros Pipelines Inc.; Camp, Dresser & McKee Inc.; and Carollo Engineers PC.

Cal/OSHA cited and fined:

  • Kinder Morgan Energy Partners, for two alleged serious willful violations, $140,000;
  • Carollo Engineers, for one alleged serious accident-related violation, $22,500;
  • Mountain Cascade, for one alleged serious accident-related violation, $22,500; and
  • East Bay Municipal Utility District, for one alleged serious violation, $6,750.

"After a 6-month, thorough investigation, Cal/OSHA has determined that the explosion that occurred Nov. 9, 2004, leaving five employees dead and four seriously injured, was completely preventable," Cal/OSHA Acting Chief Len Welsh said. "The primary cause of the incident was that the location of the petroleum line was not known by the employees working in the area. Several employers failed to take required action and committed errors that contributed to the failure to determine and mark the location of the utility line."

On Nov. 9, 2004, at 1:22 p.m., an excavator operated by Mountain Cascade Inc. punctured a high-pressure petroleum line owned by Kinder Morgan Energy Partners, according to Cal/OSHA. Mountain Cascade was constructing a large water supply line for East Bay Municipal Utility District.

Gasoline was released into the pipe trench and was ignited by the welding activities of Matamoros Pipelines, a welding subcontractor working for Mountain Cascade, according to Cal/OSHA.

The resulting explosion and fire killed five employees and seriously injured four other employees. All of the victims worked for Matamoros Pipelines and Mountain Cascade, and all fatalities and injuries were due to the explosion and fire, according to the agency. There also was extensive property damage.

Cal/OSHA says it has a concurrent criminal investigation underway through its Bureau of Investigations. The findings from that investigation, which focuses on possible criminal liability involved in the accident, will be given in a confidential report to the Contra Costa District Attorney's Office to determine if criminal charges are applicable.

Under California law, the companies have 15 working days from receipt of the citations to appeal.

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