Perspectives: Taking a Safety Minute

By Elizabeth Ingram

When I received and read an email regarding the terrible incident that occurred at the 955.6-MW Priest Rapids hydropower facility on Oct. 8, my heart skipped a beat.

The incident was initially reported to be an explosion that injured six employees. Grant County Public Utility District in Washington State, which owns the hydro project, has done a great job keeping the public updated, and the most recent press release indicated inspectors from the Washington Department of Labor and Industries have begun an investigation into the cause of the electrical equipment failure. The failure was isolated to one of the turbine-generator units and determined to be malfunction of the main circuit breaker.

Of the six injured workers – whose names have not been made public but were reported to be power plant electricians and operators – four have been treated and released from the hospital. However, as of Oct. 20, the remaining two were still hospitalized in Seattle and reportedly scheduled to undergo burn surgeries. Harborview Medical Center has set up a page where you can send notes of support to the two hospitalized employees: www.uwmedicine.org/patient-resources/email-patient. For the patient’s name, enter “Dam explosion patients in intensive care.”

Grant County PUD is covering most of the expenses of the injured workers, including lodging, transportation and meals for their families in Seattle. A fund has been set up to cover any additional expenses. Send donations to: Granco Credit Union, P.O. Box 127, Ephrata, WA 98823 and mark them “Priest Rapids Family Fund.”


We in PennWell’s Hydro Group are lucky that we rarely have to report on serious safety incidents at hydropower facilities in North America. In fact, there are some hydro plants that have impressive safety records, going decades without a lost-time incident. But there’s always room for improvement, particularly when it comes to incidents caused by human errors.

That’s why many hydroelectric plant owners and operators start the work day or a staff meeting with a “safety minute,” intended to educate employees about internal policies or issues of concern or to provide tips to help keep staff safe.

In addition, the National Hydropower Association offers a new tool called the Operational Excellence (OpEx) program. This is a voluntary event reporting system, designed to assist the hydropower industry with sharing operating experiences, solutions, best practices and lessons learned. Event reports go through multiple rounds of quality control and information scrubbing before they are released for other participants to view, meaning you can disclose all details and provide the most valuable information possible.

Many hydro project owners and operators are participating in the OpEx program, and the database is being updated regularly with new event reports. Join today at hydroexcellence.org and do your part to help your organization and others in the hydropower industry keep their people – and plants – safe.

Elizabeth Ingram
Managing Editor

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