Deaths, Injuries Earn Fine
ANTHONY SPINELLI and JOE MUSANTE
July 08, 2000
MILFORD -The construction company building a massive power plant here has been fined by a federal agency for violating safety standards in a February accident that killed two workers and injured two others.
The U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration Friday said it intended to impose the maximum $7,000 fine on Black & Veatch, the Kansas City, Mo.-based company building the natural gas-fired Milford Power Co. plant off Bic Drive.
The OSHA report said the company failed to properly brace a steel structure that was part of a multistory steam generating unit under construction at the $225 million electric plant.
Immediate reaction to the fine was mixed with some workers feeling it was too little. The company had no immediate comment.
"If proper erection procedures had been adhered to, this structure would not have collapsed," said Clifford S. Weston, OSHA area director in Bridgeport.
The report said temporary bracing had been removed prematurely from the structure, affecting its stability.
The steel wall collapsed Feb. 2, landing on a crane, the boom of which in turn struck two aerial lifts being used by workers, the OSHA report said.
Kevin Winslow, 42, of Newington, and Wayne Most, 38, of West Hartford, two workers in one of the aerial lifts, were killed. Robert Fitch, 62, of North Branford, the crane operator, suffered massive injuries, including the loss of a leg, after being pinned by fallen debris in the cab of his crane for eight hours. Another worker had less serious injuries.
The federal agency said Black & Veatch was not following "established erection procedures" for construction of the steam generator.
Ted Fitzgerald, a spokesman for OSHA in Boston, said the company was cited for a single "serious" safety violation and that $7,000 is the maximum fine that can be proposed under law. Larger fines in construction accidents generally result from multiple violations, or if there are previous or willful violations, where companies have direct knowledge an unsafe situation exists.
"What happens next is Black & Veatch has 15 business days to respond to the citation and the proposed fine," said Fitzgerald, who noted the company was also cited on safety issues several years ago in Massachusetts.
The OSHA report said that because temporary diagonal bracing being used to support the steam generator had been removed too soon, the unit was weakened. This exposed workers adjacent to the unit "to crushing and traumatic injuries."
Specifically, Black & Veatch, is being cited for violating the Occupational Safety and Health Act, failing "to provide a place of employment free from recognized hazards likely to cause death or serious physical harm."
OSHA, a division of the U.S. Department of Labor, issues standards and rules for employers to maintain safety in workplaces.
Black & Veatch had no response Friday when asked to comment on what it will do with regard to the proposed fine and citation.
That's because the company officials have not had a chance to study the wording of the citation, said spokesman John Allen in Kansas City. "We'll have to review it in our hands," he said. He will visit the Milford construction site early next week, Allen added.
The office of the state Fire Marshal has also been investigating the incident. That office's report is expected soon and will reflect many of OSHA's findings, according to George Battle, a spokesman for the department.
Battle said his office has assisted with OSHA's investigation and the two agencies will meet next week to discuss the findings.
Work was continuing on the 544-megawatt plant, owned by a joint venture of Power Development Corp., of Auburn, Mass., and El Paso Energy Corp. of Houston.
Attempts to talk to construction workers or Milford Power Co. officials at the site were unsuccessful.
However, other construction workers in the area and labor and government officials had mixed responses to the OSHA finding.
The $7,000 fine seems small when you consider that workers died and were maimed, said a local construction worker.
William Korolyshun of Derby said if the contractor was at fault, "It doesn't seem like a stiff penalty to me. If you're wrong, you're wrong."
The fine seems too small, agreed state Rep. James Amann, D-Milford. "I don't know how high the fine should be," he said, but he thinks it should be re-examined "because people died."
In the wake of the accident, Amann successfully launched a legislative drive to study the issue of inspections at power plant construction sites. The committee will meet for the first time July 17.
But some union leaders had a different perspective. John Olsen, president of the Connecticut AFL-CIO, said the fine is not as important as pushing for improvements in safety regulations.
"No amount of money can ever bring those two people back," Olsen said. "No amount of money can ever put a limb back on someone. The issue is prevention, to make sure this type of accident doesn't happen again."
Olsen said it is his hope that in the future, companies will complain less about new regulations designed to improve safety.
Ronald Nobili, business manager for the Bridgeport-based Laborers International Union of North America, praised the safety consciousness fostered by Black & Veatch at the Milford Power Co. site. "Overall, the company's emphasis on safety has been terrific," Nobili said.
He pointed out the company holds regular safety meetings and provides proper safety supplies and equipment.
"It is one of the more safety-conscious companies that I have ever dealt with," Nobili said.
The plant is expected to begin generation of electric power next January. It will use two natural gas-fired turbines to create electricity for the wholesale market.
ABB Alstom Power, designers of the plant, could not be reached Friday for comment.