Five families awarded $1.5 million in OSHA violation case

Reuters News
Posted: Dec 19, 2011 7:03 PM
Five families awarded $1.5 million in OSHA violation case

By Robert Boczkiewicz

DENVER (Reuters) - The company that employed five workers killed in a 2007 fire at a Colorado hydroelectric plant was ordered on Monday by a federal judge to pay more than $1.5 million to the victims' surviving family members.

The compensation was part of the sentence imposed on RPI Coating Inc. in U.S. District Court for its guilty plea to five counts of violating a federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration regulation, one for each worker's death.

The sentence also requires the Santa Fe Springs, California-based company to pay a $100,000 penalty to OSHA and places the firm on probation for five years.

The five workers who perished were relining a tunnel at the Georgetown, Colorado hydro plant, about 45 miles west of Denver, when chemical vapors were ignited in the tunnel, and the fire blocked their escape.

The owner of the plant, public utility Xcel Energy Inc., and an Xcel subsidiary that operated the facility, were acquitted in June after a 16-day trial of the same charges.

As part of the plea deal approved by the judge on Monday, separate charges against RPI's president, Phillipe Goutagny, and a second company executive, were dismissed.

The prosecutor, Assistant U.S. Attorney Jaime Pena, said RPI failed "to provide necessary emergency and rescue services required by OSHA."

"Those five had mothers, fathers, brothers and wives," Pena told Chief Judge Wiley Daniel. "There will always be blood on Mr. Goutagny's hands," Pena said.

Company attorney Larry Pozner said RPI "will be a safer company" because of an agreement it has since reached with OSHA setting higher workplace standards.

The deal requires surviving family members of the victims to drop lawsuits that sought damages from RPI. Xcel earlier this year settled similar lawsuits.

The U.S. Chemical Safety Board concluded in a report issued last year that Xcel and RPI failed to implement safety procedures for the safe handling of flammable liquids, the hazard of static discharge, emergency response and rescue, and fire prevention.

OSHA Regional Administrator Greg Baxter said prosecution of the case sends a message to "those who callously choose not to protect employees."

(Editing by Mary Slosson, Steve Gorman and Greg McCune)