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California-based Company Indicted for OSHA Violations Causing Death of Five Workers

September 1, 2009

The California-based Company RPI Coating, Inc., Xcel Energy, and Public Service Company of Colorado, were indicted last week by a federal grand jury for violating workplace health and safety regulations that led to the deaths of five workers at a hydro-electric plant near Georgetown, Colorado, in October 2007.

Public Service Company of Colorado and Xcel Energy operate the hydro-electric plant, and hired RPI Coating, Inc. to re-line a 4,000-foot pipe, or penstock. The five men, employed by RPI were re-lining the pipe with a flammable epoxy liner when a fire erupted, blocking the escape route, and trapping the working men inside the tunnel. The men reportedly died within an hour due to asphyxiation after inhaling the carbon monoxide released from the fire.

The grand jury in Denver ruled that the five deaths were caused by a violation of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration's (OSHA) workplace health and safety regulations--resulting in a fire, as well as the inability to effectively rescue the workers.

The Denver Post reported that all of the defendants including both president and vice president of RFI, Philippe Goutagny and James Thompson, were aware of the serious safety and health risks involved in the operation of the re-lining project. Even with the knowledge of these risks, a required confined-space permit needed for safety was not obtained. The employees were also not informed of the immediate danger with any posted signs.

The grand jury alleged that the companies were aware of previous incidents that posed threat to the employees, and failed to protect the men from potential danger by not obtaining a proper permit for the project. The indictment also accused the defendants of failing to conduct proper safety rescue evacuation plans for the men in case of immediate danger.

According to CNN, Greg Baxter, OSHA's Regional Administrator in Denver, claimed that if the defendants had properly followed their health and safety procedures, this catastrophic event could have been avoided.

RPI Coating, Inc., Xcel Energy, Inc., and Public Service Company of Colorado, are all charged with violating OSHA regulation on five counts, and for causing death--punishable by a maximum fine of $500,000.

RPI's James Thompson and Philippe Goutagny face the same charges, and with a conviction, could each be charged with up to $250,000 fines on five counts, and sentenced to a maximum of six months in prison.

Indictments in Deaths of Five Workers, The Denver Daily News, August 31, 2009

Xcel Energy, 2 Firms, 2 Men Indicted in 5 Colorado Deaths, CNN, August 28, 2009

Xcel Energy and Others Indicted for OHSA Violations That Caused Deaths, Newswire, August 20, 2009

Indictments Issued Over '07 Georgetown Plant Deaths, Denver, August 28, 2009

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