The U.S. Chemical Safety Board, an independent government agency charged with investigating industrial chemical accidents, recently declared Xcel Energy was partially to blame for a fatal accident at one of its hydroelectric plants in Colorado.
Specifically, the agency’s final report on the accident says Xcel and its painting contractor, RPI Coating, Inc., was not adequately prepared to deal with any issues involving volatile and flammable chemicals in a confined space. With RPI’s tattered safety record, the board laid part of the blame on Xcel for hiring a company with questionable safety credentials.
Xcel hired RPI in 2007 to paint 1500 feet of a hydroelectric plant’s steel water tunnel that is connected to a dam in Georgetown, Colorado. Five of the ten workers on the job got trapped when a fire ignited from the vapors of methyl ethyl ketone, a highly flammable solvent painters us to clean their equipment. The workers called 911 but CSB’s investigation says the responders were unable to reach the trapped painters because of thick smoke. They all perished from smoke inhalation.
Investigations supervisor for the CSB Don Holmstrom says the five workers “could have been saved had qualified, company-provided rescuers been in a position to respond immediately to a fire or other emergency.”
The CSB recommended the Occupational Safety & Health Administration beef up its regulation of flammable solvents in tight spaces.
They also recommended the Colorado governor implement some specialized firefighter certification programs. CSB also recommended the Public Utilities Commission adopt standards for utilities to choose contractors based on their safety records and qualifications. They also urged the PUC to investigate all matters resulting in death, serious injury or significant damage and make a report available to the public within one year of the incident.
We extend our deepest condolences to the families who lost loved ones in this tragedy and hope they were able to obtain all of the Colorado workers’ compensation death benefits afforded to them under the law.
Even those who made it out of the tunnel endured dangerous levels of smoke inhalation that could potentially have negative long-term health consequences. These workers should also be receiving workers’ compensation benefits in Colorado.
If you’ve been involved in a workplace accident or lost a loved one, contact Colorado workers’ compensation attorneys at the Babcock Law Firm today to ensure you receive all of the benefits you’re entitled to.