August 26 2010, 9:43 AM
The 2005 fire at the hydroelectric plant in Georgetown was the fault of Xcel Energy, the U.S. Chemical Safety Board has found. The flames, which were ignited from the vapors of a flammable cleaning solvent, grew quickly and trapped five of the 10 workers in a tunnel. They were cut off from the only exit and died of smoke inhalation. CSB investigations supervisor Don Holmstrom says those lives "could have been saved had qualified, company-provided rescuers been in a position to respond immediately to a fire or other emergency" (via The Wall Street Journal). CSB would like to see the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration strengthen regulations for workers using flammable substances in tight spaces. CSB also recommends a state firefighter certification program for rescues within confined spaces and says Public Utilities Commission regulations should require utilities to select contractors based on safety records, notes The Associated Press, pointing out that the board cited Xcel contractor RPI Coating's poor safety history. RPI was the lowest bidder on the project. Xcel, RPI Coating, and RPI executives Philippe Goutagny and James Thompson each face federal charges of violating OSHA standards and are expected to go on trial next year.