OSHA Issues $1 Million Fine for Fatal Colorado Tunnel Fire

OSHA proposed more than $1 million in penalties against two companies involved in a fatal tunnel fire that caused the death of five workers in 2007.

RPI Coating Inc., of Santa Fe Springs, Calif., faces fines totaling $845,100 while Xcel Energy received $189,900 in penalties. The companies were cited for alleged serious and willful violations of federal workplace safety and health standards, which OSHA said contributed to the tunnel fire tragedy.

“This catastrophe could have been avoided if the companies had followed their critical safety procedures,” said OSHA Administrator Edwin G. Foulke Jr.

The fire started Oct. 2 at the Xcel Energy Cabin Creek hydroelectric plant in Georgetown, Colo., while employees were in a tunnel cleaning a sprayer with a flammable solvent. When vapor from the solvent ignited, five employees working deep inside the tunnel died from asphyxiation.

RPI received 13 willful citations with proposed penalties totaling $778,500. These include three per-instance willful citations alleging that RPI brought unsafe electrical equipment into the tunnel. In addition, the company received 10 willful citations, which include:

  • 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 provide training regarding worksite chemical hazards; and
  • a lack of fire extinguishers in the work area.

RPI also received 25 serious citations with penalties totaling $66,600 that include alleged fall hazards, unsafe storage of flammable liquids outside the tunnel and improper respiratory protection, OSHA said.

Xcel Energy was issued two willful citations with proposed penalties of $126,000 for failing to take precautions to protect employees from hazards in the tunnel and to arrange for rescue services. OSHA also dealt 19 serious citations to Xcel, with proposed penalties totaling $63,900. These citations include alleged fall hazards, unsafe storage of compressed gas and electrical hazards.

Dick Kelly, chairman, president and chief executive officer of Xcel Energy, said the company needed more time to review OSHA's report before commenting specifically on its findings. He did say that while he respected OSHA’s work during the investigation, he disagrees “with any statement that implies we acted without regard to the safety of our employees and contract workers.”

Attempts to contact RPI Coating, formerly known as Robinson-Prezioso Inc., were unsuccessful.

TAGS: Archive OSHA
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