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News Release USDL 98-221
Thursday, May 21, 1998
Contact: Frank Kane (202) 219-8151

Cited for safety violations in Lawrence facility

OSHA PROPOSES $455,000 IN FINES AGAINST KANSAS UTILITY WHERE ELECTRICAL EXPLOSION KILLED THREE WORKERS

The federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) today proposed penalties of $455,000 against Western Resources for failure to follow safety requirements at its Lawrence, Kan., Energy Center where three workers died in an electrical explosion last November.

OSHA cited the company for six alleged willful and seven alleged serious safety violations, mostly of the agency's standard on electrical power generation.

"Management showed a lack of concern about taking the required safety precautions that might have prevented this triple tragedy," said OSHA Administrator Charles N. Jeffress. "Stiff penalties are warranted."

OSHA proposed fines of $70,000 for each of the willful violations, the maximum permitted under law.

On Nov. 24, 1997, employees had been working within the minimum safe work distances of a high-voltage circuit breaker cubicle and removed safety guards from energized electrical conductors in the cubicle. Physical evidence indicates that it was likely that part of one of the safety guards touched the energized conductors, causing an electrical explosion with a 26-foot fireball.

One employee was killed instantly and two other employees (a Western Resources manager directing the work and the other an employee of a subcontractor, ABB Services, Inc.) were fatally injured. Both died several days later as a result of their injuries.

Western Resources, with corporate headquarters in Topeka, Kan., is an electric utility company with multiple locations in the state which, among other things, distributes power to Kansas Power & Light and Kansas Gas & Electric. Total employment for Western Resources is 4,000. The Lawrence Energy Center is a power generation facility with 125 employees.

OSHA said that neither the two supervisors directing the work nor the employee who was killed instantly had been wearing personal protective equipment. When the work changed, exposing the employee to energized electrical equipment, the managers should have held a second job briefing to address the changed work situation and appropriate safety procedures, but did not.

The violations of the power generation standard involve training, personal protective equipment, minimum safe work distances, work planning, hazardous energy control and safe work practices.

OSHA also proposed penalties totaling $40,000 against the subcontractor, ABB Services of Kansas City, Mo., for eight alleged serious violations.

Western Resources has 15 working days to contest the citations and proposed penalties before the independent Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission.

SUMMARY OF CITATIONS AND PROPOSED PENALTIES WESTERN RESOURCES,INC. LAWRENCE, KAN., ENERGY CENTER

Alleged Willful Violations

  • Protective equipment was not used when necessary whenever hazards capable of causing injury or impairment were encountered.
    $70,000

  • Qualified employees were not trained and competent in the minimum approach distances specified in the standard for the voltages to which the qualified employee will be exposed.
    $70,000

  • Employees were not trained and competent in the proper use of special and precautionary techniques, personal protective equipment, insulating and shielding materials and insulated tools for working on or near exposed energized parts of electrical equipment.
    $70,000

  • The employer did not ensure that a second job briefing was held if significant changes, which might affect the safety of the employees, occur during the course of the work.
    $70,000

  • The employer did not ensure that no employee approaches or takes any conductive object closer to exposed energized parts than is permitted in the standard.
    $70,000

  • The guarding of energized parts within a compartment was not maintained during operation and maintenance functions to prevent accidental contact with energized parts and to prevent tools or other equipment from being dropped on energized parts.
    $70,000

Total Penalties for Alleged Willful Violations = $420,000
(Willful violations are those committed with an intentional disregard of, or plain indifference to, the requirements of the Occupational Safety and Health Act and regulations.)

Alleged Serious Violations

  • The employer did not assess the workplace to determine if hazards were present or likely to be present that necessitated the use of personal protective equipment.
    $5,000

  • Electrical protective equipment not subjected to periodic tests as required by the standard.
    $5,000

  • Employees not trained and familiar with electrical safety-related work practices and procedures pertaining to their job assignments.
    $5,000

  • The employer did not certify that employees had received required training.
    $5,000

  • Existing conditions related to the safety of the work were not determined before work on or near electric lines or equipment was started.
    $5,000

  • The employer did not require use of a lockout on energy isolating devices that were capable of being locked out and the employer did not demonstrate that use of a tagout system will provide full employee protection.
    $5,000

  • Three violations of requirements for controlling hazardous energy and training employees in such controls. (Grouped)
    $5,000

  • The employer did not ensure that each employee exposed to hazards of flames or electric arcs did not wear clothing that would increase the extent of injury that might be sustained.
    $5,000

Total Penalties for Alleged Serious Violations = $35,000

(A serious violation is defined as one in which there is a substantial probability that death or serious physical harm could result and the employer knew or should have known of the hazard.)

GRAND TOTAL OF PROPOSED PENALTIES = $455,000


Archive Notice - OSHA Archive

NOTICE: This is an OSHA Archive Document, and may no longer represent OSHA Policy. It is presented here as historical content, for research and review purposes only.

OSHA News Release - (Archived) Table of Contents

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