October, 2007

This is a repeating event

200702OctAll DayXcel Energy Hydroelectric Tunnel Fire 2007Xcel Energy Georgetown (US-CO) Origin: CSB Lessons:Contractor Management,Control of Work,Emergency PreparednessIndustry:Renewable PowerCountry:United StatesLanguage:ENLoC:Maintenance error

Summary

On October 2, 2007, a chemical fire inside a permit-required confined space1 at Xcel Energy’s hydroelectric plant in a remote mountain location 45 miles (72 kilometers) west of Denver, Colorado, killed five and injured three workers. Industrial painting contractors were in the initial stages of recoating the 1,530-foot (466-meter) steel portion of a 4,300-foot (1,311-meter) enclosed penstock2 tunnel with an epoxy coating product when a flash fire occurred. Flammable solvent being used to clean the epoxy application equipment in the open penstock atmosphere ignited, likely from a static spark. The initial fire quickly grew as it ignited additional buckets of solvent and substantial amounts of combustible epoxy material, trapping and preventing five of the 11 workers from exiting the single point of egress within the penstock. Fourteen community emergency response teams responded to the incident. The five trapped workers communicated using handheld radios with co-workers and emergency responders for approximately 45 minutes before succumbing to smoke inhalation.

KEY ISSUES:
• SAFE LIMITS FOR WORKING IN CONFINED SPACE FLAMMABLE ATMOSPHERES
• PRE-JOB SAFETY PLANNING OF HAZARDOUS MAINTENANCE WORK
• CONTRACTOR SELECTION & OVERSIGHT
• EMERGENCY RESPONSE AND RESCUE

ROOT CAUSES:
1. Xcel and RPI management did not ensure effective planning and coordination of the Cabin Creek penstock recoating project to control or eliminate the serious confined space hazards that were present.
2. Xcel’s and RPI’s corporate safety policies and permits did not effectively establish safe limits for flammable atmospheres in permit-required confined spaces that would prohibit entry or occupancy when those limits were exceeded.
3. Early in the planning process, Xcel identified the Cabin Creek penstock’s single point of egress in the event of an emergency as a major concern; RPI personnel also raised safety issues about a single exit. However, neither Xcel nor RPI management took remedial action.
4. Xcel management did not provide effective oversight of RPI to ensure the penstock recoating work was safely conducted.


Image credit: CSB

Origin

CSBUS Chemical Safety Board

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