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Tanker fire penalties handed down

Northern energy appeals five out of five citations
By: Stephanie Dumm News Messenger Reporter
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Northern Energy has appealed all five citations received from CalOSHA as a result of last August?s propane tanker fire. Proposed penalties for the five citations are $42,975, but that?s subject to change since Northern Energy has appealed the one citation, according to California Division of Occupational Safety and Health (also known as CalOSHA) spokeswoman Erika Monterroza. ?The employer has the ability to appeal and that?s what they?ve done,? Monterroza said. ?As part of the appeals process, the penalties may go down and the violations category may be adjusted.? The News Messenger asked Richard Martinelli, Heritage Propane (Northern Energy) vice president and general manager, for his comment regarding both the citations and the appeal filed by his company in response to the citations. ?Northern Energy is cooperating with the investigation stemming from the rail car fire at our facility in Lincoln, CA. The investigation as to the cause of the incident is on-going,? Martinellis said. ?While we can offer no timetable on our OSHA appeal, Northern Energy expects the ruling will be fair. Northern Energy is committed to the safety of our employees, our customers and our communities.? CalOSHA issued a narrative summary of the tanker fire and the five citations on Feb. 12 of this year. Both items can be found at www.dir.ca.gov/dosh under ?Citations, significant.? When asked if the fire was the fault of the employee and employer, Monterroza said, ?I can?t comment more than what?s contained in the summary.? Monterroza did say that an employer is ?responsible for what the employee does, and it?s the employers responsibility to train them and to discipline them.? ?The citations were issued because we found issues because of training,? Monterroza said. ?In all cases it?s the employer that is liable as part of the civil process.? Monterroza said CalOSHA will ?do spot inspections to make sure the training that took place? as a result of being cited ?actually took.? There are what Monterroza called ?failure to abate? penalties if Northern Energy doesn?t correct what they were cited for. The first citation, which has three items and is categorized ?general,? comes with a penalty of $2,475. That is the only citation being appealed by Northern Energy, according to appeal documents submitted by Northern Energy on Feb. 28. Citation number one reports that the employer, Northern Energy: ?had not included procedures in their Injury and Illness Prevention Program to evaluate workplace hazards;? ?failed to? make sure employees involved in the fire wore personal protective devices; and that ?two tall compressed gas cylinders containing propane were not secured or stored to prevent them from creating a hazard by tipping, falling or rolling? at the facilities Aug. 25, 2011 inspection, which CalOSHA stated is a requirement. The remaining four citations are considered ?serious? violations and each come with a price tag of $10,125. Citation number two deals with static electricity. It states that on Aug. 23, an employee was wearing rubber soled shoes while ?releasing extremely flammable propane from the top of a railcar tank filled with liquid propane gas when it ignited,? and that the employee ?was not effectively grounded or bonded by contact or connection.? The second citation also states that ?no provision had been made to bond and/or ground the propane railcar tank to prevent the accumulation of static electrical charges which may create a source of ignition in the presence of flammable vapors or gasses, as required.? Citation three states that a ?fire or explosion hazard? was created by Northern Energy when ?they did not take precautions to prevent ignition by eliminating or controlling sources of ignition such as sparks by using spark proof tools such as brass or aluminum in areas where flammable vapors may be present, as required.? Citation four states that ?clothing appropriate for the work being done shall be worn.? It goes on to say that the employee, who was wearing a short-sleeve t-shirt and shorts, ?was burned when the extremely cold, flammable liquid propane he was releasing was ignited,? and so his ?body, arms and legs were not protected from the flames or cold burns.? Citation five was given since ?the employee was not wearing safety glasses with side shields, chemical goggles or chemical goggles with a face shield, as required.? The investigation summary said the fire happened while a Northern Energy employee was ?taking measurements and running checks on the extremely flammable liquid propane prior to unloading it.? During that process, ?some liquid propane gas being released flashed causing a fire,? and the employee sustained first and second degree burns to his arms and legs,? according to the summary. The summary also states that ?when rail car tanks are unloaded or loaded they are connected by a large bonding strap from the loading tower to a connection point on the tank car,? and a strap was not in use on Aug. 23, 2011, and ?adding to the danger of the burning railcar was that it was still connected to three other railcar tanks possibly containing as much as 29,000 gallons of liquid propane gas each.? A forensic investigation of the railcar was done by Union Tank Car Company, owner of the tank car, and the investigation was observed by regional inspectors from the Federal Railroad Administration, according to Federal Railroad Administration spokesperson Warren Flatau. ?It was purposely disassembled, with a detailed inspection of the car, looking at the various safety features, including the pressure release valves, to see if it had any defects or deformities,? Flatau said. ?The post-accident work we did, to our satisfaction, helped us determined there was no compliance issues with the car itself, and there?s no fracture or crack in the car.? The News Messenger asked Mayor Spencer Short if the city of Lincoln has received any payment from Northern Energy for city resources used during the fire, like public safety, public works and bringing in outside agencies to assist during the fire and evacuation. ?We have received some reimbursement from Heritage Propane (Northern Energy),? Short said. Since the city is ?still finalizing costs,? Short did not have a number for how much the city has received or will receive, but said the city could receive ?upwards of $1 million from the incident.?