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Hoover Dam Hit with 58 OSHA Citations

Thursday, January 17, 2013

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Lead contamination, hexavalent chromium exposures and a wide variety of other hazards at the Hoover Dam  Hydroelectric Power Plant have resulted in the filing of 58 federal health and safety notices against the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration is alleging 50 serious and eight repeat health and safety violations uncovered during a comprehensive investigation at the dam, located 30 miles southeast of Las Vegas.

"We are concerned to have found this number of serious safety and health violations at the Hoover Dam plant," said Ken Atha, OSHA's regional administrator in San Francisco. "We expect to work closely with the agency to rectify these deficiencies and provide a safe and healthful work environment for employees."

Hoover Dam power plant
Photos: Bureau of Reclamation

The Bureau of Reclamation said that none of the issues cited by OSHA threatened the structural integrity of the 76-year-old plant or endangered the public.

The Bureau of Reclamation, part of the U.S. Department of Interior, maintains and operates the plant. The plant and dam employ about 250 people.

An OSHA notice of an unhealthful or unsafe working condition is the equivalent of a private-sector citation. OSHA has jurisdiction over occupational safety standards in federal workplaces; however, it is not allowed to impose fines on another federal agency.

Serious Violations

The 50 serious safety and health violations include allegations of:

  • Inadequate personal protective equipment;
  • Lead contamination;
  • Fall and electrical hazards;
  • Lack of required guards on machinery;
  • Potential overexposure to hexavalent chromium;
  • Failure to maintain and inspect firefighting equipment;
  • Failure to provide unobstructed access to emergency exits; and
  • Insufficient lockout/tagout procedures for energy sources that could lead to amputations.

Serious violations reflect substantial probability of death or serious injury from a hazard about which the employer knew or should have known.

Repeat Violations

The eight repeat violations include alleged failure to:

  • Anchor a drill press;
  • Implement proper machine guarding;
  • Correct multiple electrical violations; and
  • Properly mount and maintain portable fire extinguishers.

A repeat violation can be issued when OSHA has previously notified an employer of the same or a similar violation at any of its facilities within five years.

OSHA has inspected 25 Bureau of Reclamation facilities nationwide over the past five years, including a previous investigation at the Hoover Dam in October 2010.

Bureau Responds

In a release, the Bureau of Reclamation said it had "taken aggressive steps to address deficiencies identified" by the OSHA inspection.
Hoover Dam Power Plant Turbine

The power plant has 17 main Francis turbine generators and two Pelton Waterwheel station service units (one for each plant wing). The total plant capacity is 2,079 MW.

"None of these identified items jeopardized the safety of the general public or threatened the structural integrity of the dam or dam operations," the agency said, adding that it had "worked cooperatively with OSHA during and following its inspection and is fully committed to addressing all identified deficiencies."

"Although one violation is one too many, we are taking the necessary steps to ensure the issues raised are fixed and do not happen again," said Lower Colorado Regional Director Terry Fulp. "We are committed to the safety of all the employees who work in our facilities, the visitors who enjoy the Hoover Dam experience and the general public."

Design, Standard Issues

The bureau said it had already "taken substantial action to address most deficiencies identified by OSHA" and would "request an informal conference to discuss identified violations and ongoing remediation of outstanding issues."

Some violations stemmed from outdated designs and standards. The plant began producing power in 1936. For example, the bureau said, one item involved doors from the historical design of the dam that swing into the facility rather than out. "A solution is actively under development," the bureau added.

The agency said it would share the findings from the OSHA inspection with all of its offices, to help prevent similar violations at other facilities.

"A comprehensive and well-supported occupational safety and health program is important to a strong and productive workforce," added Reclamation Commissioner Michael L. Connor. "Reclamation will do what is necessary to ensure that safety continues to come first at its offices and facilities."

About the Power Plant

Hoover Dam and Power Plant was the first major concrete thick-arch dam constructed by the Bureau of Reclamation. Water for generation is conveyed through four penstocks from four intake structures immediately upstream and contiguous to the dam.

Spillway structures use eight 16-by-100-foot drum gates, which provide for an additional 16 vertical feet of storage capacity in Lake Mead, the reservoir impounded upstream of the dam. Lake Mead is the largest Reservoir in the United States.

The plant was authorized as a Boulder Canyon Project feature. The first unit was placed in service on Aug. 31, 1936; the last unit was commercially commissioned on Dec. 1, 1961.

The plant was operated by Southern California Edison and Los Angeles Department of Water and Power under the supervision of the Bureau of Reclamation until 1987, when the original 50-year electric service contracts terminated. Reclamation assumed control of operation and maintenance in 1987.



Tagged categories: Enforcement; Exposure conditions; Hexavalent chromium; Lead; Locks and dams; OSHA; Personal protective equipment

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