Progress Energy Faces Safety Fine

Friday, September 16, 2011 @ 03:09 PM gHale


Progress Energy is facing $31,500 in fines after a North Carolina state inspection of its Sutton power plant in Wilmington revealed nine workplace violations.

The inspection occurred because a 24-year-old instrument and control technician died in an explosion during routine maintenance work. The inspection uncovered safety issues at the coal-fired plant ranging from the absence of warning signs to improper procedures.

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The power company has 15 business days to pay the fines.

A Progress Energy spokesman said the company was reviewing the findings and expected to make a decision on whether to challenge them.

The safety inspection by the N.C. Department of Labor, the first for the Sutton plant in its 57-year history, came in response to the March 15 death of Cory Rogers, who was working on a generator in a cramped space when a work fan or light ignited hydrogen in the unit and caused it to blow up.

The death refocused attention on the role employers and state regulators play in guarding workers against undue job hazards. Because North Carolina, as well as other states, has so few inspectors, it is not uncommon for workplaces to go decades without an outside safety review.

Inspectors commonly discover violations where a death has just occurred, said Neal O’Briant, a labor department spokesman.

Still, officials have said the fact inspectors had never visited Sutton attested to the plant’s previously untarnished safety record. The March incident marked the first serious accident on record for that facility.

Mike Hughes, a spokesman for Progress Energy, said company officials instituted a number of changes to the Sutton plant in the wake of the accident. They are also, he said, continuing to evaluate the state’s inspection report to see what implications it might have for the company’s other plants.

“This is something that we take very, very seriously,” Hughes said, adding later, “Cory was a much-loved employee, and the accident on March 15 was devastating to our employees there.”

Among the violations listed in the report was not posting warning danger signs at the entry hatches to the bushing box, an electrical component on the generator, and the location of hydrogen valves and piping.

Inspectors also said that the procedure for purging the bushing box did not ensure all the hydrogen was out, and unapproved sources of ignition were present in a combustible atmosphere.



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