Back in February, an explosion at the Kleen Energy Systems plant in Middletown, Connecticut killed six workers and injured others. Workers had been finishing construction on the natural gas power plant, and natural gas under high pressure was being pumped through new fuel lines to remove debris. Much of this gas was vented into areas where it couldn’t disperse properly, and welding was occurring at the same time. Gas contacted an ignition source, and the resulting explosion killed Peter Chetulis, Ronald J. Crabb, Raymond Dobratz, Kenneth Haskell, Roy Rushton, and Chris Walters.
Yesterday, OSHA proposed $16.6 million in penalties for 371 alleged workplace safety violations related to this disaster. Three construction companies and 14 subcontractors were cited. OSHA has cited O&G Industries (the general contractor), Keystone Construction and Maintenance Inc. (which oversaw the gas blow) and Bluewater Energy Services (the plant’s startup contractor) 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,” in addition to other citations.
As with the recent string of grain elevator tragedies, OSHA has coupled a large proposed fine with a forceful letter to others in the industry:
As a result of the deadly incident at the Kleen Energy plant, OSHA will be 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 that safety procedures and practices are implemented 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 a flammable gas is being used; 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.
Secretary Solis’s commentary puts the citations in context:
“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.”
In other news:
NPR: Mexico’s drug cartels threaten journalists who report too much about drug-related violence, and eight reporters have been gunned down this year.
New York Daily News: Several Ground Zero workers have expressed concerns that the negotiated settlement won’t adequately cover their healthcare needs, and may opt out of it. Ninety-five percent of the plaintiffs must accept the offer in order for the settlement to go forward.
El Paso Times: Several former employees of the Asarco smelter in El Paso, which was found to have been burning hazardous waste 1989 and 1997, have become ill and are seeking details about what they would have been exposed to while working there.
Winnipeg Free Press: Researchers interviewed healthcare workers from 13 facilities in the US and Canada and found that healthcare workers’ use of surgical gloves is associated with a 66% reduction in the risk of needlestick and other “sharps” injuries.