Enforcement and Inspection

Tampa Electric Gets Half-Million-Dollar Fine, Probation in Worker Deaths

Tampa Electric Co. pleaded guilty in federal court to willfully violating an OSHA standard, leading to five worker fatalities in 2017 at the Big Bend River Station electrical power plant in Apollo Beach, Florida, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) announced August 23. The federal court ordered Tampa Electric to implement a safety compliance plan that’s audited by an independent third party and pay a $500,000 penalty and gave the company 36 months of probation.

OSHA determined in 2017 that six workers suffered burns when a blockage inside a coal-fired furnace broke free, spewing fiery molten slag into a work area. Five employees died in the incident, and a sixth sustained serious burns. The fatally injured workers were employed by Tampa Electric and two contractors, Gaffin Industrial Services and Brace Integrated Services Inc.

“Five workers at the Big Bend River Station electrical power plant never should have died,” Tremelle Howard, Atlanta regional solicitor of labor, said in an agency statement.

In addition to implementing a safety compliance plan, retaining a third-party safety auditor, paying a monetary fine, and serving probation, Tampa Electric must meet its restitution payment obligations to the families of the deceased and injured workers.

The company reached private civil settlements with the victims’ estates and other injured individuals, according to OSHA.

Tampa Electric is one of Florida’s largest investor-owned electric utilities, according to OSHA, serving more than 800,000 customers in west central Florida. The company is a subsidiary of Emera Inc., a multinational utilities holding company headquartered in Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada.

OSHA cites farm labor contractor in heat-related death

On August 24, OSHA announced citations for Wauchula, Florida-based Citrus Harvesting Inc. following the heat-related death of a 35-year-old farmworker for two serious violations for exposing workers to hazards associated with high ambient heat and failing to ensure workers were adequately trained on first aid.

Because there is no existing heat hazard or heat illness standard, OSHA cited Citrus Harvesting with a serious violation of the General Duty Clause, Section 5(a)(1) of the Occupational Safety and Health Act for the high ambient heat exposure on the farm.

On April 5, an employee of Citrus Harvesting was harvesting strawberries on a Duette, Florida, farm. At 5:45 p.m., others observed the worker showing signs of disorientation. The worker became unresponsive and perished after a coworker took the worker to a housing unit. Temperatures that day rose to 89 degrees Fahrenheit, according to OSHA.

“Citrus Harvesting Inc. failed to take reasonable steps to ensure employees assigned to work outdoors in hot temperatures are taking frequent rest and water breaks,” said OSHA’s Tampa, Florida, area office director, Danelle Jindra, in a statement.

“An effective heat illness prevention plan could have prevented this tragedy.”

OSHA has both a rulemaking to establish the first federal heat hazards standard and a national emphasis program (NEP) of outreach, inspection, and enforcement for indoor and outdoor heat hazards.

On October 27, 2021, OSHA issued an advance notice of proposed rulemaking (ANPRM) with 114 questions for stakeholders about a potential standard.

The NEP, issued April 8, targets over 70 industries that OSHA considers “high risk.” Targeted industries include those in the agricultural, construction, manufacturing, and wholesale sectors, as well as automobile dealerships, postal service, and freight and rail transportation.