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Plant blast citations contested

Sean Ryan
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Three companies are fighting the federal citations handed out after a February power plant explosion in Oak Creek.

An Occupational Safety and Health Administration investigation of the incident led to citations against We Energies (PDF), which owns the power plant, and contractors ThyssenKrupp Safway Inc. (PDF) and United States Fire Protection Inc. (PDF) Representatives from ThyssenKrupp, West Allis, and We Energies told OSHA officials this week of the companies’ intentions to contest the citations, said Scott Allen, spokesman for the Chicago OSHA regional office.

“They had the informal conference with the Milwaukee OSHA office yesterday,” Allen said Wednesday. “Two separate meetings, of course, and that’s when they informed them of their intention to contest.”

OSHA fined the three companies after inspectors investigated the explosion in the Oak Creek power plant’s coal-dust collector. United States Fire Protection, New Berlin, hired ThyssenKrupp to erect scaffolds in the dust collector for a project to repair a fire-protection system. Seven ThyssenKrupp workers were severely injured when coal dust in the collector ignited.

United States Fire Protection is contesting the two citations it received in June. The company was cited for failing to tell ThyssenKrupp to get a permit for work in confined spaces, and for failing to teach ThyssenKrupp safety procedures to prevent We Energies employees from activating the coal-dust collector when workers were inside. The two citations totaled $7,600 in penalties.

We Energies spokesman Brian Manthey confirmed the utility’s appeal but said he cannot discuss details of what We Energies will challenge.

We Energies received three citations with fines totaling $147,000, and ThyssenKrupp, which did not respond to calls for comment, received seven citations amounting to $153,500.

Each company will have the chance to argue its case against the citations before a commission of industry representatives. The commission will make a final decision on whether the penalties should be reduced, Allen said.

OSHA does not set deadlines to complete reviews of citation appeals.

“It could take more than a year,” Allen said.

A lawsuit against We Energies, ThyssenKrupp and United States Fire Protection filed by the seven injured workers also could be a lengthy process. We Energies attorneys last month argued the workers and ThyssenKrupp — not the utility — are responsible for the explosion. United States Fire Protection this week responded to the lawsuit (PDF) with attorneys saying the workers or someone else — not the company — caused the blast.

The requested jury trial for the lawsuit is scheduled to begin after September 2010.

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