Power company fined after substation explosion
Salem based North Arkansas Electric Coop filed a grievance Dec. 15 with the Occupational Safety and Health Administration after inspectors cited NAEC following an Aug. 31 explosion inside a Mountain Home substation that killed three coop workers and injured another.
"We absolutely dispute the citations levied against us by OSHA," NAEC CEO Mel Coleman said. "We (NAEC) are in the process of contesting these citations and our intention is to prevail in subsequent litigation."
OSHA inspectors cited NAEC for not adhering to manufacturer's instructions while removing a voltage regulator and allowing two employees who did not have adequate safety training to work on the regulator.
Additionally, OSHA found that safety tests were not performed prior to the removal of the voltage regulator, which exposed workers to fire and explosion hazards.
NAEC was fined a total of $14,700. Each citation carries a $4,900 fine.
Coleman said it is common for OSHA to issue citations after workers are injured or killed on the job, regardless of the circumstances.
"We are in the first phase of this process. Any and all of these citations could be dismissed by the end of the process," Coleman said.
David Bates, OSHA assistant area director, said the citations against NAEC could be revised. Bates said the citations were categorized as "serious." OSHA conducted an extensive investigation from Sept. 2 to Nov. 30.
"NAEC has been extremely cooperative during this process," Bates said.
He said serious violations carry a fine of up to $7,000 each. NAEC's fine was less severe because no safety violations have been reported in the company over the last three years and NAEC employs a relatively low number of people, Bates said.
Desi Jones, 41, of Salem, Ivey Hodge, 59, and Jesse Zimmer, 27, both of Mountain Home, died of injuries sustained from the August blast inside the Baxter 1 substation.
The fourth man, Chris Hickman, 26, of Highland is recovering from his injuries.
"Chris is making remarkable progress. We are so happy for him and his family," Coleman said.
The exact cause of the blast has not been determined.
Coleman said NAEC is not being sued by any of the families involved in this incident. He said family members from the dead and injured workers may decide to pursue legal action against NAEC, but it was unlikely.
Bates said over the last seven years there have been several fatalities connected with electrical coops across the state. He said there was a similar explosion inside a substation in Jacksonville last year.
Coleman said NAEC has an excellent safety record and safety training is the company's number one priority.
"Our employees are well trained and the best in their field," Coleman said.
He said family members and coop employees are still trying to deal with the tragic loss of their fellow employees.
"The most important fact is that this was a tragic accident resulting in the loss of co-workers and coop family members. Our concern has been and will be for the family members affected by the accident," Coleman said.