Companies indicted for causing fatal fire at Cabin Creek

DENVER, Colo., U.S. 8/31/09 (PennWell) — A federal grand jury has indicted Xcel Energy Inc. and two other companies for violating federal safety rules and causing the death of five workers who died in a 2007 chemical fire at the Cabin Creek hydropower plant in Colorado.

“This catastrophe could have been avoided if the companies had followed their critical safety procedures,” said Greg Baxter, regional administrator for the Occupational Safety and Health Administration in Denver. “There should never be such a disregard for the safety of employees.”

Xcel, Public Service Co. of Colorado, and RPI Coating Inc. have each been charged with five counts of violating OSHA regulations and causing death, according to the U.S. Department of Justice. Each company faces a fine of up to $500,000 per count.

RPI Coating was hired to remove the old liner in the plant’s penstock and replace it with a new epoxy liner. On Oct. 2, 2007, five employees with RPI Coating were working inside the dewatered penstock at the 324-MW pumped-storage project when a buildup of chemical vapors ignited inside the pipe, blocking their escape path, according to prosecutors.

The five workers survived for about an hour before dying from asphyxiation, prosecutors said.

Philippe Goutagny, RPI’s owner and president, and James Thompson, RPI’s project supervisor, also were indicted and face up to six months in prison and fines of up to $250,000 for each count.

Larry Pozner, an attorney for RPI, said it was “wrong” to try to turn an accident into a crime.

OSHA issued 48 citations against RPI for, among other things, bringing unsafe electrical equipment into the penstock, unsafe handling of flammable liquids, failure to provide workers with adequate ventilation, and failure to install carbon monoxide alarms. (HydroWorld 3/25/08)

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