Safety Failure: Big Fines for CT Power Plant Blast

Monday, August 9, 2010 @ 05:08 PM gHale


After six workers died and 50 others suffered injuries from a power plant blast, the U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) cited three construction companies and 14 site contractors for 371 workplace safety violations, and proposed $16.6 million in penalties.
February’s deadly natural gas explosion at the Kleen Energy Systems LLC power plant construction site in Middletown, CT, left six workers dead and 50 others injured.
“The millions of dollars in fines levied pale in comparison to the value of the six lives lost and numerous other lives disrupted,” said U.S. Secretary of Labor Hilda L. Solis. “However, the fines and penalties reflect the gravity and severity of the deadly conditions created by the companies managing the work at the site. No operation and no deadline is worth cutting common sense safety procedures. Workers should not sacrifice their lives for their livelihoods.”
On the day of the blast, Feb. 7, a gas blow operation was underway in which flammable natural gas pumped under high pressure through new fuel gas lines to remove debris. During this operation, an extremely large amount of natural gas vented into areas where it could not easily disperse. Welding and other work was going on nearby, creating an extremely dangerous situation. The explosion occurred when the gas contacted an ignition source.
“These employers blatantly disregarded well-known and accepted industry procedures and their own safety guidelines in conducting the gas blow operation in a manner that exposed workers to fire and explosion hazards,” said Assistant Secretary of Labor for OSHA Dr. David Michaels. “We see this time and time again across industries when companies deliberately ignore safety precautions in the interest of completing jobs quickly, and workers end up being killed or seriously hurt.”
As a result of the deadly incident at the Kleen Energy plant, OSHA is issuing a warning letter to natural gas power plant operators regarding the dangerous practice of cleaning fuel gas piping using natural gas, and the need to ensure safety procedures and practices are in effect to prevent these disasters.
Such practices and procedures include: the venting of gas vertically and above all structures; the elimination of all ignition sources if using a flammable gas; the removal of all non-essential workers from the site; and the monitoring of air quality during and after completion of the blows. The letter also advises on alternatives such as the use of nonflammable, nonexplosive media to clean the pipes.
In connection with the explosion, OSHA cited O&G Industries Inc., the project’s general contractor; Keystone Construction and Maintenance Inc., which was in charge of the piping and oversaw the gas blow; and Bluewater Energy Services Inc., the commissioning and startup contractor for the plant.
OSHA cited all three companies for performing the gas blow procedure in a way that exposed workers to fire and explosion hazards, including the configuration of the vent pipes in close proximity to scaffolding and other structures, and the failure to remove non-essential personnel from the area. OSHA filed citations for failing to install and use electrical equipment in accordance with its listing and labeling, allowing welding work during the gas blows and failing to train employees to recognize hazards associated with gas blows.
OSHA hit O&G with 119 willful, 17 serious and three other-than-serious citations with penalties totaling $8.3 million. Keystone Construction and Maintenance earned 94 willful, 16 serious and one other-than-serious citation with fines of $6.7 million. Bluewater Energy Services had 12 willful citations and eight serious citations totaling $896,000.
In addition, OSHA cited 14 subcontractors for additional serious hazards with penalties totaling $686,000. Cited were: Ducci Electrical Contractors Inc., the electrical insulation contractor at Kleen Energy; Instrument Science and Technology, which performed electrical testing and small bore pneumatic piping; Coverflex, which was installing insulation blankets on gas turbines; United Anco, which performed scaffold erection, inspection and dismantling; Smedley Crane, which performed crane hoisting and rigging for pipefitting work; API Construction Inc., which performed pipe insulation; North American Energy Services, hired by Kleen Energy to operate the power plant upon completion; Siemens Energy, which supplied gas turbines and provided limited construction support services; Team Industrial Services, which performed pipe welding heat stress services and instrument testing; Tucker Mechanical, a welding subcontractor; Securitas, which provided site security; Worley Parsons, which designed and engineered the Kleen Energy facility for O&G ; Berlin Steel, which performed post-explosion steel erection and demolition activities; and Barnhart Northeast, which provided rental cranes and operators for post-explosion activities.
OSHA defines a willful violation as one committed with plain indifference to or intentional disregard for employee safety and health. A serious citation occurs when there is substantial probability that death or serious physical harm could result from a hazard about which the employer knew or should have known.



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