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Tampa Electric contractor dies at Big Bend Power Station

The cause of death was not immediately released.
A Tampa Electric Co. contractor died at the company’s Big Bend Power Station. [Luis Santana | Times (2017)]
A Tampa Electric Co. contractor died at the company’s Big Bend Power Station. [Luis Santana | Times (2017)]
Published Feb. 22
Updated Feb. 22

APOLLO BEACH — A Tampa Electric Co. contractor died at the company’s Big Bend Power Station after falling from scaffolding Monday.

At about 8:15 a.m., an unnamed contractor was working while standing on scaffolding and fell, later dying. Cherie Jacobs, spokeswoman for Tampa Electric, said the man had worked on the company’s sites for more than 10 years, and the height he fell from was not known as of late Monday afternoon.

“The safety of our employees and contractors is always our first priority at Tampa Electric,” spokeswoman Cherie Jacobs said in a statement. “We are conducting a thorough review of this incident.”

Hillsborough County Fire Rescue responded to a medical call at the power plant at 8:30 a.m. Monday, spokesman Eric Siedel said. Siedel said he was unable to provide any specific information about the victim because it is protected under medical privacy laws. According to a redacted dispatch log from the agency, the man was in his mid- to late-40s.

Tampa Electric’s Apollo Beach power plant has been the site of prior workplace incidents that have resulted in deaths or serious injuries.

In June 2017, five workers were killed after performing a maintenance procedure on a coal-fired generator that the utility knew was dangerous. A Tampa Bay Times investigation found that the utility ignored its own policies when it sent the workers to clean the Unit 2 generator, which resulted in the release of slag, a magma-like substance that covered the workers.

Related: Hellfire From Above: Tampa Electric knew the procedure was dangerous. It sent workers in anyway.

Tampa Electric is in the process of retiring that generator. Less than a year after the accident, it announced its plan to shutter the coal-powered unit and transition another generator to natural gas, a project that is ongoing. At the time, spokeswoman Jacobs said the fatal accident in 2017 was not the main reason for shutting down Unit 2.

In an investigation that followed that incident, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration gave Tampa Electric one of its most serious violations — “willful” — which is when companies knowingly eschew their own rules or act indifferently toward the safety of their employees. It it is one of just two utilities in Florida that received this type of violation.

Tampa Electric was fined nearly $140,000 for violations the federal agency found. It is contesting those findings.

Five months after the fatal incident, two more contractors sued Tampa Electric after another accident left one with “substantial injuries” and another with “permanent total disability.” The men, who were fixing a water leak at another Big Bend generator, were hit with a column of water that erupted. Both lawsuits are ongoing.

Nancy Tower, the outgoing chief executive who took over after that incident, said safety was a priority for her.

“The tragedy at Big Bend has changed the company forever,” she said in a 2018 interview with the Times. “We can no longer be a company where people get hurt at work, let alone killed.”

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Related: Meet Nancy Tower, Tampa Electric's incoming CEO

She put in a five-year plan centered around safety that had a goal of eliminating injuries and deaths. The plan included training, updating safety procedures and creating a comprehensive safety system that was subject to audits.

She also established a vice president of safety position that reported directly to her.