Safety and OSHA News

$1.4 billion fine for fatal explosion

A California agency has issued its biggest safety fine ever in connection with an explosion that killed eight people and leveled a neighborhood. 

The California Public Utilities Commission has issued $1.4 billion in fines to Pacific Gas & Electric Co. for a 2010 pipeline explosion in San Bruno, near San Francisco.

The fine would be paid by PG&E shareholders, not its customers.

The PUC issued the penalty in connection with 3,798 alleged violations of state and federal laws and regulations for the gas pipeline industry. The Sept. 9, 2010, explosion and fire destroyed 38 houses and also injured 66 people. The blast created a 167-foot crater in a street.

Federal investigators say the explosion was caused by defective welds in 54-year-old pipe.

PG&E still faces 27 federal criminal charges of lying to federal investigators and U.S. transportation officials looking into the explosion.

The National Transportation Safety Board faulted PG&E for inadequate inspections and recordkeeping. It took the company more than an hour and a half to shut off the gas from the burst pipeline.

No word from PG&E on whether it intends to contest any part of the fine. The company has accepted that it will pay a fine, saying “a penalty is appropriate.”

PG&E says it’s already spent billions of dollars on safety upgrades such as additional inspections.

Officials from the city of San Bruno say they’re generally satisfied with the proposed fines.

A 30-day comment period follows the PUC’s announcement of the proposed fines. The full, five-member commission will vote on the final penalty in a public session, expected to take place early in 2015.

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