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Turbine Maker Cited in Death, Amputation at New Plant

Thursday, May 19, 2011

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The world’s largest wind tower plant, cited for a fatal accident just after the Colorado facility opened in October, is facing new citations and a $164,000 fine after a November accident caused partial loss of a worker’s fingers.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration has issued one willful and 23 serious safety and health violations against Vestas Towers America Inc., of Pueblo, CO, following a comprehensive inspection of the wind turbine manufacturing plant, which includes painting and finishing operations.

2 Weeks, 2 Accidents

OSHA’s inspection followed an accident Nov. 10, in which an employee suffered partial amputation of two fingers and a broken wrist.

 Vestas Towers America Inc.

 Vestas

The Pueblo, CO, turbine facility processes more than 200,000 tons of steel annually. The plant includes painting and finishing operations.
 

“Vestas Towers America failed to provide its employees with a safe and healthful workplace,” said John Healy, OSHA area office director. “The numerous hazards uncovered during this investigation are totally unacceptable.”

The November accident came 13 days after John Keel, 21, was fatally crushed between a forklift and a train car while crews were loading sections of wind turbines at the plant. Keel worked for Transportation Technology Services, which was doing contract work in the plant. OSHA has proposed a $17,000 fine against Vestas and an $11,900 fine against TTS in that case.

Company Responds

Vestas Towers America spokesman Andrew Longeteig emailed this statement Thursday:

“Safety is the primary value at Vestas. We practice ‘safety first’ in every part of our business operations. With our commitment to safety in mind, Vestas takes great care to ensure the safety of our employees, equipment, customers and the general public.

“Vestas Towers America Inc., has cooperated fully with the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) in its inspection of the industrial incident that occurred in the Pueblo factory on November 19, 2010. We have proactively taken measures to further enhance our health and safety program, and we have already addressed many of the concerns raised during OSHA’s inspection.

“For example, we’ve enhanced our extensive safety orientation training and daily safety briefings, and we’ve placed added emphasis on safety training in classrooms and in the factory. We’ve put an even greater emphasis on our safety walks and inspections for all employees and contractors campus-wide. We launched a new employee campaign to correlate safety procedures with personal behavior. And we hired a reputable third party with extensive experience in safety-related services to conduct a comprehensive health and safety legal compliance audit. This audit is now underway.”

New Facility

The Pueblo plant opened Oct. 12 at a gala event that included Ken Salazar, U.S. Secretary of the Interior, who used the occasion to kick off his national renewable energy tour.

The facility has nearly 13 million square feet of space and eight miles of on-site railway tracks to transport materials and finished components. The plant employs more than 400 workers and can produce up to 1,090 towers per year. The company says the facility can process more than 200,000 tons of steel per year.

Current Citations

In the November case, the willful violation addresses the deliberate removal of support equipment while welding sections of wind towers together, which caused the sections to slide and resulted in the amputation injury.

A willful violation—OSHA’s highest level of infraction—is one committed with intentional knowing or voluntary disregard for the law’s requirements, or with plain indifference to worker safety and health.

The serious violations allege hazards associated with:

  • Improper machine guarding;
  • Damaged electrical equipment;
  • Improper forklift operations;
  • Lack of guardrails;
  • Inadequate worker egress;
  • Improper use of ladders;
  • Lack of personal protective equipment; and
  • Not training workers on the use of hazardous chemicals.

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

The company has 15 business days from receipt of the citations to contest them or to request an informal conference with OSHA.

Former Employee Charged
 
In addition to its OSHA problems, Vestas is also dealing with a lawsuit to recover more than $1 million from a former employee at its first Colorado plant.

Denna Randall Martinez, 44, former finance director at the Vestas wind turbine blade manufacturing plant in Windsor, CO, has been charged with felony theft.

Vestas filed suit after Randall-Martinez was charged. She is alleged to have spent more than $2.1 million in Vestas money on plane tickets, hotel rooms, home renovations and other personal expenses.

The Windsor plant was Vestas’ first U.S. turbine blade manufacturing facility when it opened in March 2008. Those grand opening festivities included U.S. Ambassador to Denmark James P. Cain and Colorado Gov. Bill Ritter. Randall-Martinez worked for the facility from August 2007 until December 2010.

Vestas Towers is a subsidiary of Denmark-based Vestas Wind Systems A/S.

   

Tagged categories: Accidents; Fatalities; Health and safety; OSHA; Wind Towers

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