Saturday, June 23, 2018
Public safety

Tampa Electric, contractor fined $43,000 in gas leak

APOLLO BEACH — The federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration fined Tampa Electric $18,108 and gave the company two "serious" citations for its response to a gas leak at the Big Bend Power Station in May, the agency announced late Friday.

The May 23 incident involved a release of anhydrous ammonia that sent four workers to the hospital.

OSHA also issued two "serious" citations and $25,350 in fines to Tampa Electric contractor Critical Intervention Services, a firm that provides security services at Big Bend.

The fines aren’t particularly large, said Jordan Barab, who served as OSHA’s deputy assistant secretary from 2009 to 2017.

But they come as Tampa Electric, one of the state’s largest utilities, faces scrutiny over its safety record. OSHA is investigating a June 29 accident at the Big Bend plant that killed five workers and injured a sixth. The agency is expected to issue its findings by the end of December.

Barab said the May 23 incident could be a factor in determining how harshly the agency fines Tampa Electric for the June accident.

"Even when you have safety problems that aren’t directly related, that can be an indicator that you’ve got some systemic safety problems and cultural issues that need to be addressed," he said.

Anhydrous ammonia is a hazardous gas that can cause skin burns, respiratory irritation and death by suffocation.

"Usually when you go to a power plant, there’s a safety video you have to watch about it," said Danny Raines, a Georgia-based safety consultant who spent four decades working in power plants. "If there’s a release, you have to get away from it."

The release at Big Bend was blamed on an over-pressurized pipeline, OSHA said.

Tampa Electric was cited for having an inadequate emergency response plan and because the employees who were exposed to the gas were not wearing protective masks.

Critical Intervention Services was penalized for not having a written hazard communication program and for not training its employees on hazardous chemicals, OSHA said.

Tampa Electric said it was reviewing the citations, and planned to meet with OSHA, spokeswoman Sylvia Vega said.

"Our review of our safety policies and procedures, which is ongoing, includes an evaluation of this equipment," she added.

Critical Intervention Services also said it planned to meet with OSHA.

"In this case, we were the ones who found the leak," CEO K.C. Poulin said. "We’re not part of the team that works with these gasses."

The companies have 15 days to contest the findings.

Experts say the June accident, which left five dead, could result in far larger penalties, especially if OSHA finds "repeated" or "willful" violations.

An August Tampa Bay Times investigation into the deadly accident found that the company had experienced a near-identical incident in 1997 that injured at least three people. The 1997 accident led a committee of workers and managers to draw up new safety guidelines that would have prevented the June incident. But the rules were costly and eventually abandoned, former and current employees told the newspaper.

In July, CEO Gordon Gillette promised the company would stop doing the kind of work that led to the accident until investigations into the incident had concluded. But in late August, workers at the plant carried out a similar maneuver anyway. The union complained, and Tampa Electric pledged to further clarify its prohibition.

Then in October, two workers trying to fix a boiler cooling system were rushed to the hospital. Their injuries were not life-threatening, a spokeswoman said.

The Times has reported that in recent years, more workers have died in Tampa Electric’s power plants than in plants run by any other Florida utility. Tampa Electric has had 10 fatalities since 1997. No other utility has had more than three.

Times staff writer Neil Bedi contributed to this report. Contact Kathleen McGrory at [email protected] or (727) 893-8330. Follow @kmcgrory.

Comments
Tampa boy, 14, shot on bike, police asking for help

Tampa boy, 14, shot on bike, police asking for help

TAMPA — Police want to know who shot 14-year-old De’Nico Thomas after a night of playing video games.Thomas was at a friend’s home Wednesday night and walking home when Tampa police said he was shot, resulting in life-threatening injuries.As he faces...
Updated: 8 hours ago
Clearwater police search for ‘Bic Bandit’ accused of stealing lighters

Clearwater police search for ‘Bic Bandit’ accused of stealing lighters

CLEARWATER — Police detectives are searching for a man coined the "Bic Bandit" based on reports that he’s stolen dozens of lighters from the same 7-Eleven.According to Clearwater police, the man has swiped the lighters four times in the last month, t...
Published: 06/22/18
FHP: One dead, three seriously injured in head-on Pasco crash

FHP: One dead, three seriously injured in head-on Pasco crash

DADE CITY — A Dade City man was killed and three others were seriously injured after a pickup truck and motorcycle crashed head-on Friday morning, according to the Florida Highway Patrol.Floyd Williamson, 72, of Lakeland, was driving northbound on U....
Published: 06/22/18
Body of missing Hernando park ranger found in Georgia; boyfriend being questioned

Body of missing Hernando park ranger found in Georgia; boyfriend being questioned

Georgia detectives on Friday recovered the body of Mitzi Marie Babb, a 43-year-old Hernando park ranger who had been missing since Tuesday.Her boyfriend, arrested Thursday on unrelated charges, has been called a person of interest in her disappearanc...
Published: 06/22/18
A Pasco driver was annoyed another driver was texting. So he pointed a firearm at her.

A Pasco driver was annoyed another driver was texting. So he pointed a firearm at her.

PORT RICHEY — A 41-year-old Uber driver was arrested Friday after police said he pointed a firearm at another driver because he was annoyed that she was texting and driving.Philip Macchio was driving near State Road 52 and U.S. 19 around 12:30 a.m. F...
Published: 06/22/18
Deputies: Cheerleading coach sent explicit images to 16-year-old

Deputies: Cheerleading coach sent explicit images to 16-year-old

A 28-year-old cheerleading coach faces charges for engaging in "inappropriate behavior" with a 16-year-old girl, according to the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office.Victor Martin Valenty faces 10 counts of traveling to meet a minor, distributing ob...
Published: 06/21/18
Updated: 06/22/18
Suspect arrested in rapper XXXTentacion’s shooting death

Suspect arrested in rapper XXXTentacion’s shooting death

FORT LAUDERDALE — Authorities in Florida have arrested a suspect in the killing of rising rap star XXXTentacion, who was fatally shot in his luxury BMW electric car as he left an upscale motorcycle dealership. Dedrick Devonshay Williams, 22, o...
Published: 06/21/18
St. Pete police: Three lieutenants lied about their work hours

St. Pete police: Three lieutenants lied about their work hours

ST. PETERSBURG — Three lieutenants responsible for supervising the police officers who patrol the city were found to have been faking their work hours instead of showing up for duty on time.In some cases, the watch commanders submitted time sheets st...
Published: 06/21/18
Deputies: Zephyrhills bank robbed, suspect flees on bicycle

Deputies: Zephyrhills bank robbed, suspect flees on bicycle

A Suntrust Bank in Zephyr-hills was robbed early Thursday afternoon, according to the Pasco County Sheriff’s Office.At 12:50 p.m., deputies said, the man walked into the bank at 34511 State Road 54 and presented a note demanding money, though he did ...
Published: 06/21/18
Man found dead in Hillsborough Bay had a big fan in the cat world

Man found dead in Hillsborough Bay had a big fan in the cat world

TAMPA — To his friends and neighbors at Tampa Baptist Manor, Norman Lester Porterfield was the man who fed and spoiled Lucky, the scruffy stray calico cat in the back yard. To his friends and coworkers at the Salvation Army, he was a great athlete, a...
Published: 06/21/18