Nova Scotia

Emera subsidiary fined $500K for horrifying industrial accident

A subsidiary of Halifax-based Emera was fined $500,000 US on Friday for willfully violating United States safety rules following an industrial accident that killed five people at a Florida power plant.

5 workers were killed after they were sprayed with the lava-like substance

An image from NBC News shows the scene at the accident site in Florida in 2017. (NBC News)

A subsidiary of Halifax-based Emera has been fined $500,000 US following an industrial accident that killed five people when molten slag erupted from a tank at a Florida power plant.

Tampa Electric Company, known as TECO, was sentenced Friday in a U.S. district court in Florida for willfully violating United States safety rules.

The accident happened in June 2017 at the company's Big Bend coal-fired electrical generation plant outside Tampa.

Workers were clearing a clogged tank containing slag, which is a glass-like waste formed when the remains of burnt coal are cooled with water.

Prosecutors said rather than shut down the furnace, Tampa Electric called in a contractor who tried to clear the blockage with high-pressure water blasting. An ensuing explosion sprayed workers with molten slag.

Witnesses said it "looked like a volcano and a jet dragster. It was a fireball with molten slag coming out. It was liquid slag/lava on fire."

'Catastrophic consequences'

"TECO's willful violation had catastrophic consequences, including five workers dead and several more injured, underlining the importance of workplace safety standards," said assistant attorney general Todd Kim of the U.S. Justice Department's  environment and natural resources division.

"The department takes this conduct very seriously, and accordingly pursued the maximum remedy available under the law."

Prosecutors said the company failed to hold a mandatory pre-job briefing that should include information about the associated hazards, work procedures, any special precautions and personal protective equipment required.

"The work proceeded even though the procedure for this work could not be located," the department said in a news release.

"As a result, certain critical safety-related steps were not taken and five individuals lost their lives when an explosion caused a violent release of molten slag throughout the work area."

The judge, Charlene Honeywell, sentenced the Emera subsidiary to a $500,000 fine, three years probation and ordered it to follow a safety compliance plan

In a plea agreement, Tampa Electric said it has reached confidential settlement agreements with the victims' families.

Emera issued a statement from Tampa Electric president Archie Collins.

"We reaffirm our commitment to hold ourselves accountable for this tragedy, and to ensure our people are safe as part of the world-class safety culture all of us at Tampa Electric are working together to build," Collins said in the statement.

Emera also owns Nova Scotia Power.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Paul Withers

Reporter

Paul Withers is an award-winning journalist whose career started in the 1970s as a cartoonist. He has been covering Nova Scotia politics for more than 20 years.

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