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Thursday, Oct 18, 2018
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Tampa Electric, contractor fined $43,000 in gas leak

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration fined Tampa Electric $18,108 and gave the company two "serious" citations for its response to a gas leak at the Big Bend Power Station in May, the agency announced late Friday.

The May 23 incident involved a release of anhydrous ammonia at the Apollo Beach plant that sent four workers to the hospital. All were released.

OSHA also issued two "serious" citations and $25,350 in fines to Tampa Electric contractor Critical Intervention Services, a firm that provides security services at Big Bend.

The fines come as Tampa Electric, one of the state's largest electric utilities, is facing increasing scrutiny over its safety record. OSHA is investigating a June 29 accident at the Big Bend plant that killed five workers and injured a sixth. The agency is expected to issue its findings by the end of December.

An August Tampa Bay Times investigation into the deadly accident found that the company had experienced a near-identical incident two decades ago that injured at least three people. That accident led a committee of workers and managers to draw up new safety guidelines that would have prevented the June incident. But the rules were costly and eventually abandoned, former and current employees told the newspaper.

The Times has also reported that more workers have died in Tampa Electric's power plants than in plants run by any other Florida utility. Tampa Electric has had 10 fatalities since 1997. No other utility has had more than three.

Tampa Electric spokeswoman Sylvia Vega said the company was reviewing the citations, and planned to meet with OSHA soon.

"Our review of our safety policies and procedures, which is ongoing, includes an evaluation of this equipment," she added.

Anhydrous ammonia is a hazardous gas that can cause skin burns, respiratory irritation and death by suffocation.

It was released at Big Bend by an over-pressurized pipeline, OSHA said. Tampa Electric was cited because its emergency response plan did not meet minimum requirements, and because the employees who were exposed to the gas were not wearing the appropriate protective masks.

Critical Intervention Services was penalized for not having a written hazard communication program and not having trained its employees about possible hazardous chemicals.

"When there is a potential hazardous chemical exposure, the emergency response plan must include all of the minimum safety and health requirements, including appropriate respiratory protection for employees," OSHA Area Director Les Grove said in a statement.

Tampa Electric and Critical Intervention Services have 15 days to contest the findings.

Contact Kathleen McGrory at [email protected] or (727) 893-8330. Follow @kmcgrory.

Read the Times' investigation into the June accident and see an interactive graphic explaining what happened at www.tampabay.com/bigbend.

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