With the six-month deadline approaching for issuing citations and monetary penalties, OSHA announced today 13 willful and 25 serious violations against RPI Coatings, the employer of five workers who died in early October at the Excel Energy Cabin Creek Station hydroelectric plant near Georgetown, Colorado.  The penalty amount proposed by OSHA against RPI Coatings is $845,100.

The deceased workers were part of a contract maintenance crew who were applying a specialized epoxy coating onto the inside of a 3,000 foot-long (and 4 foot-wide) pipe.  A fire erupted inside the pipe, starving the atmosphere of oxygen.  The five men were Anthony Aguirre, 18, Donald Dejaynes, 43, Gary Foster, 48, Dupree Holt, 37 and James St. Peters, 52 (previous post here).

At the time of the disaster, an official with RPI said:

“We’ve done a lot of projects like this one and never had trouble before. These men were very experienced people…These men all were wearing breathing apparatus. We don’t know what created the fire. Usually all of the equipment we use is explosion-proof that shouldn’t cause sparks. The epoxy coating being applied does not present a lot of danger under normal circumstances.” (previous post here)

Clearly, something went terrible wrong or this official didn’t have a clue what he was talking about.  OSHA’s investigators found evidence to support the following: 

  • electrical equipment was brought into the tunnel that was not safe because it could ignite a solvent-based cleaner being used in the tunnel
  • 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 train on worksite chemical hazards
  • lack of fire extinguishers in the work area, and
  • improper respiratory protection.

RPI Coatings has 15 work days to request an informal conference with OSHA’s Area Director to discuss the citations and penalties.  There are no rights however for family members of the deceased men, or current employees of RPI to participate in this informal conference should the employer request it.

The Cabin Creek hydroelectric plant is controlled by the Public Service Co. of Colorado, a subsidiary of Excel Energy (NYSE: XEL).  Excel was assessed two willful and 19 serious violations, with proposed penalties of $189,900.

In the news release announcing the citations and penalties, OSHA’s Assistant Secretary of Labor stated:

“This catastrophe could have been avoided if the companies had followed their critical safety procedures.  There should never be such a disregard for the safety of employees.”

Amen.

His quote continues:

“Today’s citations should serve as a reminder to all employers about the critical need to always provide a safe and healthful workplace for their employees.”

I really hope it is not the citations that serve as a reminder, but rather, that Anthony Aguirre, 18, Donald Dejaynes, 43, Gary Foster, 48, Dupree Holt, 37 and James St. Peters died before their time, and this disaster was completely preventable.