Safety and OSHA News

High pressure steam puts workers at risk: $882K in safety fines

Three contractors at a multi-employer construction site face a total of $882,000 in safety fines. Officials say the companies put workers’ lives at risk after a pressure valve was removed from a steam piping system. 

The Alaska Occupational Safety and Health section has issued:

  • 6 willful citations to Quanta Power Generation, $420,000 in fines
  • 13 willful citations to Universal Energy, $182,000, and
  • 5 willful citations to Price Gregory International, $280,000.

The owner of the work site, Municipal Light and Power (ML&P) of Anchorage, AK, wasn’t fined because it promptly evacuated the site when unsafe conditions were identified.

Alaska state officials say on Sept. 17, 2016, a pressure relief valve was removed from a steam piping system, and the system was placed into service without any other safeguards.

Two days later, high steam pressure built up suddenly, causing violent shaking of the piping system.

ML&P asked Universal Energy operators to shut down the system to prevent a catastrophic failure which could have resulted in injuries, fatalities and hundreds of thousands of dollars in damage.

Operators delayed shut-down, causing ML&P to evacuate their employees. Reports say other employees at the site were not evacuated. There were no injuries.

Quanta was in charge of project management. It was assessed the maximum allowed by law, $70,000 for each willful violation.

The fines for the other two companies were reduced because of the employers’ relatively small sizes.

Officials told the Alaska Dispatch News that pressure spiked over 175 pounds per square inch during the event. That much steam could cause death or serious thermal burns. Another potential hazard: Being struck by equipment in a burst/explosion.

“Lives could have been lost in this incident,” said Alaska Labor Commission Heidi Drygas.

Quanta issued a statement saying it disagreed with the state’s assessment of the situation, but they are cooperating fully with the investigation.

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