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Two workers injured at Tampa Electric power plant

APOLLO BEACH — An industrial accident at Tampa Electric's Big Bend Power Station sent two workers to the hospital Tuesday afternoon, the company said.

Tampa Electric officials provided few details Wednesday about what caused the accident, but said the injuries weren't life threatening and one of the men had been released from Tampa General Hospital.

The workers, both contractors employed by the Zachry Group of Texas, had been tasked with fixing the cooling system attached to the Unit 3 boiler, Tampa Electric spokeswoman Cherie Jacobs said.

The boiler wasn't on while they worked, Jacobs said.

The injuries come amid questions into Tampa Electric's safety record. In June, an industrial accident at the Big Bend plant killed five workers and injured a sixth. In that case, the workers were doing maintenance on a large tank that stores molten coal ash, and the boiler was on.

[ READ THE INVESTIGATION: Tampa Electric knew the procedure was dangerous. It sent workers in anyway. ]

[ MORE: TECO accounts for nearly half of Florida power plant deaths, data shows ]

They were counting on the lava-like "slag" to stay trapped in the boiler, where it is created when coal burns. But it gushed out onto them, covering their bodies with third-degree burns.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration is investigating the incident.

A Tampa Bay Times investigation found that a near-identical accident happened at another Tampa Electric plant in 1997, and workers warned the company against doing slag-tank maintenance with the boiler running. The company followed the guidelines for more than a decade, but had recently stopped.

Turning off and restarting a coal-fired boiler costs hundreds of thousands of dollars, experts say.

Over the last two decades, more workers have died in Tampa Electric's power plants than in plants run by any other Florida utility, the Times reported in July. No other utility has had more than three fatalities in the last two decades. Tampa Electric has had 10.

Union business manager Doug Bowden said the company is close to resolving a grievance he filed after the June accident seeking to permanently ban slag-tank work while the boiler is online. The union and the company are revising the language in the company's safety agreement, he said Wednesday.

"This has got to stop," Bowden said. "Hopefully the language we've pretty much agreed to will help end work like this that is inherently unsafe."

Tampa Electric is also considering speeding up the grievance process and allowing an independent safety expert to help resolve conflicts, Bowden said.

The company declined to comment on those talks.

In August , U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor, D-Tampa, sent a letter urging OSHA to consider new rules aimed at preventing slag-tank accidents.

Contact Anastasia Dawson at or (813) 226-3377. Follow @adawsonwrites. Contact Kathleen McGrory at or (727) 893-8330. Follow @kmcgrory.