Federal court orders Tampa Electric Co. to make significant workplace safety changes, pay $500K fine, face 36 months probation for fatal plant failures
TAMPA, FL – A federal court has ordered Tampa Electric Co. to implement a safety compliance plan audited by an independent third party, pay a $500,000 penalty and be subject to 36 months of probation after Tampa Electric pleaded guilty to willfully violating an OSHA standard, which caused five worker fatalities in 2017 at the Big Bend River Station electrical power plant in Apollo Beach. The Department of Justice’s Environmental Crimes Section and the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Middle District of Florida prosecuted the case.
The department’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration determined that six workers suffered burns when a blockage inside a coal-fired furnace broke free, spewing fiery molten slag into the work area. Five employees died in the incident and the sixth sustained serious burns. Tampa Electric and two contractors – Gaffin Industrial Services and Brace Integrated Services Inc. employed the workers.
The U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Florida’s Aug. 18, 2022, order requires Tampa Electric to implement a safety compliance plan, retain an auditor, pay the monetary fine and serve probation. In addition, Tampa Electric Co. needs to meet its restitution payment obligations to the families of the deceased and injured workers. The company reached private civil settlements with the victims’ estates and other injured individuals.
“Five workers at the Big Bend River Station electrical power plant never should have died,” said Regional Solicitor of Labor Tremelle Howard in Atlanta. “The U.S. Department of Labor’s enforcement action and the litigation that followed shows that employers who willfully expose workers to the risks of serious injury or worse will be held accountable for failing in their legal responsibility to provide a safe and healthy workplace.”
As part of the agreement, Tampa Electric Co. also reached a settlement with the department’s Office of the Solicitor in the related civil matter. OSHA issued citations to Tampa Electric for failing to follow energy control procedures while performing maintenance on equipment, and to Gaffin Industrial Services for failing to develop procedures to control hazardous energy. The agency also cited the two companies for failing to provide appropriate personal protective equipment to safeguard employees from burns. Proposed penalties for both companies totaled $160,972. Tampa Electric Co. paid $139,424 in OSHA penalties as part of this global settlement agreement.
OSHA did not issue citations to Brace Integrated Services.
During its investigation, OSHA learned slag tank-related incidents at the electrical power plant in 1997 and 2011 led to worker injuries. In response to these incidents, the agency found Tampa Electric modified its slag tank water blasting procedures and required a job briefing be performed to review the procedures before every job. The company, however, failed to train its employees or on-site contractors on the new procedures. Tampa Electric pleaded guilty to willfully violating the related OSHA standard by failing to ensure those briefings took place.
As part of the court’s order, Tampa Electric will retain the services of FDRsafety LLC to audit its safety compliance plan.
Among Florida’s largest investor-owned electric utilities, Tampa Electric serves more than 800,000 customers in West Central Florida. It is a subsidiary of Emera Inc., a geographically diverse energy and services company headquartered in Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada.
Under the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970, employers are responsible for providing safe and healthful workplaces for their employees. OSHA’s role is to ensure these conditions for America’s workers by setting and enforcing standards, and providing training, education and assistance. Employers can also contact the agency for information about OSHA’s compliance assistance resources and for free help on complying with OSHA standards.