In June 2017, OSHA began a fatality investigation at the Big Bend River Station electrical power plant in Apollo Beach, Fla. Inspectors determined that five employees were fatally burned when a blockage inside a coal-fired furnace broke free and spewed molten slag into the work area. One worker compared the sight of the slag to molten lava flowing from a volcano. The slag can reach temperatures of 1,000 F.
Five employees of Tampa Electric, Gaffin Industrial Services and Brace Integrated Services Inc. died following the incident. A sixth employee was burned but survived.
Emergency services responded to a call from the Big Ben River Station at approximately 4:20 p.m. on June 29 stating that workers at the power plant’s Unit 2 had suffered severe burns. Two people were pronounced dead at the scene, and the other four workers were taken to Tampa General Hospital. Three of the four transported to the hospital later died from their injuries.
At the time of the incident, Corey Dierdorff, a spokesman for Hillsborough County Fire Rescue, categorized their injuries – which included burns and other injuries – as “very severe.” Five of the workers were employed by contractors Gaffin Industrial Services and Brace Integrated Services Inc. and one, Michael McCort, had worked for Tampa Electric Co. for 35 years and was a senior plant operator. McCort was one of the workers pronounced dead at the scene.
On June 30, Tampa Electric Co. released a statement saying it was working with investigators to uncover the cause of the fatal incident. “Our heartfelt thoughts and prayers are with the families of everyone who was touched by this incident,” said Gordon Gillette, president and CEO of Tampa Electric, at the time. “Safety is the No. 1 priority at Tampa Electric, and we are working hard to determine exactly what happened and why. We will be conducting a complex investigation to determine the root cause.”
After a lengthy investigation, OSHA cited Tampa Electric for failing to follow energy control procedures while performing maintenance on equipment. Gaffin Industrial Services was cited by OSHA for failing to develop procedures to control hazardous energy. Tampa Electric and Gaffin also were cited for failing to provide appropriate personal protective equipment to safeguard employees from burns. Proposed penalties for both companies totaled $160,972. Brace Integrated Services was not issued citations.
“This tragedy demonstrates what can happen when hazards are not properly controlled,” said OSHA Atlanta Regional Administrator Kurt Petermeyer. “Employers must develop and implement necessary procedures to prevent incidents such as this from occurring.”
The companies have 15 business days from receipt of their citations and proposed penalties to comply, request an informal conference with OSHA’s area director or contest the findings before the independent Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission.