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OSHA hits Tampa Electric with $76,000 fine for October accident

TAMPA — Federal safety regulators have hit Tampa Electric Co. with a $76,050 fine and citation following an investigation into an October accident that injured two contractors at the utility's Big Bend Power Station.

The violation was designated "serious."

It is the second safety citation leveled against the utility by federal regulators in four months. The previous one stemmed from an accident that left five workers dead in 2017.

In the latest citation, issued April 20, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration said Tampa Electric's modifications to a door on the cooling system for a boiler at the Apollo Beach station led to the injury of two contractors, who worked for Zachary Industrial Inc. at the time. The men had been called to the plant to repair a water leak on the Unit 3 boiler's cooling system.

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When they arrived, a hatch on the equipment burst open, sending a column of water about two feet across directly at them.

The cover, OSHA's citation said, "was not maintained to assure that all fastening components were free from corrosion." It had been modified "without conducting an engineering analysis and evaluation to assure the modification maintained the manufacturer's design." The issue, the report said, was corrected during OSHA's inspection.

Tampa Electric also did not safely shut down the machinery, the report said. Nor did it conduct periodic inspections of the procedures for powering it down.

In a statement, the utility said it is working with OSHA "closely."

"Safety is and will remain Tampa Electric's number-one priority," said Tampa Electric spokeswoman Sylvia Vega in an email.

Both of the injured workers, Donald Gansner and James Carter, are suing the utility. In the lawsuits, filed in Hillsborough County, the men say the force of the water split Gansner's skull and hurt his leg, resulting in him needing a walker to get around. Carter's spine, too, suffered a compression fracture. Gansner has not been able to return to work.

The workers' lawyer, Robert Jordan, said the utility had cranked up the pressure in an effort to clean the condenser unit.

Tampa Electric has the option to contest the violation, as it did when OSHA designated the 2017 incident at its Big Bend facility a "willful" violation.

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That violation came following a June accident in which five workers at Big Bend were killed during a maintenance procedure that Tampa Electric knew was dangerous went awry.

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Federal regulators fined the utility $126,749.

Contact this reporter at or (727) 892-2249. Follow @malenacarollo.