Feds cite Georgia Power in plant mishap

Federal investigators found 17 safety violations at Georgia Power plant near Cartersville following a generator explosion in April, the government said Friday.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration proposes a $119,000 for the violations, which it said were connected to the April incident at coal-fired Plant Bowen.

The explosion — which left three workers with minor injuries but caused no deaths — happened during the shutdown of a generator for maintenance.

Among other things, OSHA found that a safety briefing before the procedure was inadequate, and that one of the employees involved had not done such work in two years and had not been retrained since.

Georgia Power previously said its investigation, conducted just after the explosion, determined that worker error, not equipment failure, caused the incident.

Company spokesman Jacob Hawkins on Friday said the utility is reviewing the OSHA report and could not comment directly on it. But he said the company has corrected issues found in its own review, and has taken discliplinary action. He did not elaborate.

“Overall, the safety and health of the public and our employees is a top priority for Georgia Power,” Hawkins said. “We’re committed to the safe operations of our facilities with equipment, systems and processes that meet all safety and operational requirement.”

Christi Griffin, director of OSHA’s Atlanta-West Area Office, said Georgia Power has “a fundamental responsibility” to assure workplace safety.

“Fortunately, no one was injured or killed as a result of this explosion,” Griffin said. “Our inspection found several serious safety hazards that the company must address immediately to protect its workers.”

OSHA characterized the violations as “serious,” one of four categories the agency uses and second in severity. “Willful” violations are the most severe, while “repeated” or “less-than-serious” violations are less severe.

A serious violation is “when the workplace hazard could cause an accident or illness that would most likely result in death or serious physical harm, unless the employer did not know or could not have known of the violation,” according to OSHA.

Georgia Power has 15 days from receiving the citations and proposed penalties to comply, OSHA said. The utility also can ask for an informal conference with OSHA’s area director or contest the findings in front of an independent OSHA review commission.

“The fine from OSHA at this point was not unexpected,” said Chuck Eaton, chairman of the Georgia Public Service Commission, which regulates Georgia Power’s business. PSC member Stan Wise said Georgia Power has shown accountability but added:

“Here’s the things that concern me. There was a process and procedure violation. That safety was involved. And the process wasn’t followed,” Wise said. “From a company that prides itself on its safety record, it was a heck of a wake-up call for the company.”

Plant Bowen had a clean safety record for several years prior to the April incident.

Each of the citations has a proposed $7,000 fine. Some violations must be corrected by Oct. 24 and others by Nov. 6, according to OSHA documents.

The explosion happened when a combustible mix of hydrogen and air built up in Plant Bowen’s Unit 2 generator as it was being shut down.

Among the violations cited by OSHA:

* A hydrogen “header valve” inside the generator building had been in service for about two months after being tagged as defective.

* The team leader did not do a job safety briefing with the boiler turbine operators assigned to remove hydrogen from the Unit 2 generator.

* One of those boiler turbine operators had not removed hydrogen from the Unit 2 generators in two years and had not been retrained during that time

* An ordinary electrical outlet, one “not suitable” for that location, was being used as a power source for portable electric monitoring equipment. The report didn’t say how that contributed to the event.

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