Contractor Contests OSHA Fine In Fatal Powerplant Explosion
O&G Industries, the Torrington, Conn.-based general contractor on a Connecticut powerplant project where a fatal blast occurred in February during a natural gas venting operation, says it plans to contest penalties levied against it Aug. 5 by the U.S. Labor Dept.’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration.
The firm was among three construction companies and 14 subcontractors that OSHA cited for numerous alleged workplace safety violations related to the Feb. 7 blast at the 620-MW Kleen Energy LLC plant in Middletown that killed six workers and injured 50 others. OSHA has proposed $16.6 million in penalties for 371 alleged safety violations, following its investigation into the accident on the nearly $1-billion project, on which work has resumed.
The investigation showed that the workers were killed or injured after an ignition source came into contact with a large amount of natural gas that was vented into areas where it could not easily disperse during a gas blow operation, and caused an explosion.
“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 in fire and explosion hazards,” says David Michaels, OSHA’s top official.
O&G was issued 119 willful, 17 serious and three other-than-serious citations with penalties totaling $8.3 million, according to OSHA. But in an Aug. 5 statement contesting the fines, the contractor says that “as OSHA’s written citations indicate, issuance of a citation does not constitute a finding that a violation has occurred.”
The company emphasizes hat contesting the violations “should not be confused with any wavering in our commitment to safety.” The project had had only one lost time incident over 1.7 million worker hours prior to the Feb. 7 explosion, O&G says, “which demonstrates the rigor of O&G’s safety programs and commitment to safety.”
Keystone Construction and Maintenance Inc., Rowley, Mass., which was in charge of the piping and oversaw the gas blow operation, was fined $6.68 million, for 94 willful and 16 serious violations. The firm “strongly disagrees” with the proposed citations but has not said if it will officially protest them. But it notes in a statement that “worker safety remains our top priority.”
Netherlands-based Bluewater Energy Services, Inc., the plant’s commissioning and startup contractor, was issued 12 willful citations and eight others, totaling $896,000 in fines. It could not be reached. OSHA also cited 14 subcontractors on the project for additional serious hazards.
In June, the U.S. Chemical Safety Board voted to recommend a ban on the use of natural gas for pipe cleaning in response to its probe of the explosion. It also urged OSHA to create regulations banning the practice. The board found that two million standard cubic feet of natural gas was released into the atmosphere before the Kleen Energy explosion.
O&G Industries has said that it is foregoing the practice, even if regulators do not adopt the board’s recommendation.