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TECO pleads guilty in 2017 explosion that killed 5

Posted at 11:04 AM, May 19, 2022
and last updated 2022-05-19 11:04:30-04

WASHINGTON, D.C. — A Florida corporation pleaded guilty in federal court in the Middle District of Florida to a charge of willfully violating an Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) rule.

The criminal charge is related to an explosion at a coal-fired power plant in 2017 that caused the deaths of five workers.

Tampa Electric Company (TECO) operates Big Bend, a coal-fired power plant outside of Tampa.

Prosecutors said that in the June 2017 incident, hardened slag (a by-product) had accumulated at the top and the bottom of the slag tank and could not be removed. Rather than shutting down the furnace, TECO called in a contractor to perform high-pressure water blasting to try and clear the slag.

Five people were killed when one of the slag accumulations came loose, spraying the area with molten slag.

In a plea agreement with the government, TECO admitted to willfully failing to hold a pre-job briefing with the workers performing the work. Such briefing should have included the procedures for the water blasting work. Instead, the work proceeded even though the procedures could not be found.

As a result, prosecutors said, certain critical safety-related steps were not taken, including lowering the amount of coal entering the furnace, and shutting the unit down after a specified interval had lapsed.

“Had TECO complied with OSHA’s workplace safety standards, conducted a pre-job briefing and followed its own procedure, these senseless deaths could have been prevented,” said U.S. Attorney Roger B. Handberg for the Middle District of Florida.