Lawyers for two of the workers injured in the deadly Feb. 7 explosion at the Kleen Energy powerplant in Middleton, Conn. are alleging that “multiple” ignition sources were in operation while natural gas was being purged from the nearly $1 billion construction site.
Electricians Timothy Hilliker and Harold Thoma of Ducci Electric, Torrington, filed a lawsuit at Superior Court in Hartford claiming the gas purge at the 87,000-sq-ft facility was conducted with minimal supervision and without following standard protocol to protect against accidental ignition. The suit names Kleen Energy Systems, the project’s owner, O&G Industries, Torrington, general contractor and minority shareholder and Keystone Construction & Maintenance Services, Middletown – the contractor that hired and worked directly with Ducci – as defendants. Welding and grinding operations were taking place at the time of the purge, according to the suit, and a lawyer for Hilliker and Thoma says electricity was running through the site and a gas-fueled torch heater was running.
“This was a definite breakdown of communication,” says attorney Joel Faxon of Stratton Faxon. “It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to say if you release a massive amount of natural gas and you have all of these ignition sources operative that you have the potential for disaster.”
Five workers were confirmed dead over the course of the first day and a half following the explosion. A sixth died in the hospital earlier this week. Twenty-six were injured and Faxon says his firm will be filing similar suits on behalf of “at least a dozen” of those workers.
Hilliker and Thoma claim there was a lack of supervision on the site which allowed the multiple ignition sources to continue running and Faxon says project leaders had become more interested in getting the project done quickly than in running a safe site.
“We hear that there were substantial bonus payments available to O&G and other contractors for early completion,” he says. “Given the number of people on the jobsite and the amount of overtime, you can put two and two together and there’s a reasonable explanation for why they might have gotten sloppy.”
Calls and e-mails to O&G were not immediately returned. Kleen Energy declined comment.
Crews arrived at 6 a.m..on the morning of the explosion, with intentions, Faxon says, of beginning the purge operation at 7 a.m., even though many of the 114 workers were allegedly unaware the procedure was taking place that day.
“They had an hour from when they arrived on-site before they started the purge at 7,” Faxon says. “There’s no way they could have done all of their safety checks in that amount of time. And [Hilliker and Thoma] were working with Keystone, but no one from the company came to tell the guys from Ducci what they were going to be doing. There was no coordination among all subs on the job.”
A Keystone spokesperson declined to comment on the lawsuit but indicated the company was cooperating with state and federal authorities investigating the incident.
According to Faxon, both Hilliker and Thoma suffered brain injuries and both have been diagnosed with post-concussive syndrome. Hilliker is still under observation at the hospital, he says.