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OSHA fines companies for power plant explosion

Sean Ryan
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The Occupational Safety and Health Administration on Thursday fined ThyssenKrupp Safway Inc. and We Energies $300,500 following a February power plant explosion.

The citations ended a five-month investigation of the Feb. 3 explosion in a coal-dust collector at the We Energies power plant in Oak Creek.

Eight workers from the West Allis office of ThyssenKrupp were installing scaffolding at the time for a project to repair a fire-protection system. The explosion occurred when coal dust in the collector ignited. Seven ThyssenKrupp workers were injured as a result.

OSHA issued ThyssenKrupp seven citations (PDF) with penalties totaling $153,500. Company officials need to review the citations before deciding whether to contest them, said Michelle Dalton, director of marketing services for the contractor.

“We have just received the report, and we are reviewing it very closely,” she said.

OSHA issued We Energies three citations (PDF), totaling $147,000. We Energies spokesman Barry McNulty said he does not know if We Energies will contest the violations, but he said the possibility would be a part of We Energies discussions with OSHA.

“We are obviously looking forward to sitting down with OSHA representatives over the next few days to discuss the findings,” McNulty said.

The companies have until Aug. 20 to respond to the citations.

ThyssenKrupp was cited for not giving fire-retardant clothing to employees, not adequately training them and not flushing or ventilating coal dust from the work site. The company was also cited for letting crews use lights in wire cages that produced heat, which could have ignited the coal dust. ThyssenKrupp also was cited for letting workers use ordinary metal tools, such as hammers, that could have generated sparks and ignited the coal dust.

We Energies was cited for not informing ThyssenKrupp or U.S. Fire Protection Inc., the Northbrook, Ill.-based general contractor on the project, of the hazards associated with coal dust in the area. The utility also received citations for not informing the scaffolding workers of We Energies’ process for evaluating if confined spaces are safe to enter.

The ThyssenKrupp workers injured in the explosion are Alex Trevino, South Milwaukee; Ryan Bramow, Oak Creek; Benjamin Buffington, Milwaukee; Jacob Ciszewski, St. Francis; Dale Glodoski, Oak Creek; Jeffrey Ross, Greenfield; and Jose Trevino, Cudahy.

Those workers sued We Energies in February, and the case was scheduled to go to a court hearing Friday. The lawsuit accuses We Energies of letting too much coal dust accumulate in a collector and not warning the workers of the dangers in the workplace. Some citations are similar to the allegations in the lawsuit, but OSHA’s enforcement will have no effect on the case, said Tim Trecek, the attorney representing the workers.

“OSHA’s ultimate conclusions are not relevant nor are they admissible in the civil case,” said Trecek, of Habush, Habush & Rottier SC, Milwaukee.

Trecek said all of the workers have been released from the hospital. Some, he said, have permanent injuries, but their conditions are improving.

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