Oct 8, 2007
Five workers died at a hydroelectric plant in Colorado on Tuesday, October 2. These workers, and four others who were injured, were trying to escape a fire that broke out in a 3,000-foot tunnel they were doing maintenance on. One of the dead was only 18 years old.
The hydroelectric water plant near Denver, Colorado, was owned by XCel Energy. They had subcontracted their maintenance work to a California company. A first preliminary inspection by OSHA turned up the fact that the sub-contractor, RPI Coating, had been fined 90 times over 20 years, operating under another name. One of their workers had died during bridge work in California. RPI had also been fined for violating hazardous waste rules.
The company had paid only $135,569 in fines, an average of $6,000 per year. For them it was just a cost of doing business. For the workers, the cost could be their lives.
A spokesman for XCel said of the subcontractor, “... They were the experts and that’s why they were hired.” No, XCel Energy hired RPI because it could pay them less than what it would cost XCel to run their own maintenance department with decently paid and experienced workers – workers who knew their way around the plant, using somewhat adequate equipment.
In the American way of doing business, no amount of violations stops a company from seeking to maximize profits, no matter by what means. It doesn’t matter how dangerous their methods or how poor their training of their work force. It doesn’t matter if they change their name to hide their abysmal safety record. What matters is profit. And RPI was hired because its violation of basic security procedures adds to profit.