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RPI Plea Likely in 5 Painters’ Deaths

Monday, December 5, 2011

More items for Health & Safety

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RPI Coating Inc. is expected to plead guilty to several misdemeanors and financially compensate the families of five painters killed in an underground fire at the Xcel Energy Cabin Creek hydroelectric plant in 2007, prosecutors say.

The California-based specialty painting company and two of its executives, who have been awaiting a criminal trial in the case, are working on a federal plea deal that would also dismiss the charges against the executives, The Denver Post reports.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Jaime Pena said Wednesday (Nov. 30) at a hearing in Denver that RPI would plead guilty to five misdemeanor counts of workplace safety violations resulting in death, the newspaper reported.

 Penstock at Xcel Cabin Creek plant

 U.S. Chemical Safety Board

Rescue crews could not reach the painters at the Xcel Cabin Creek plant from above or below after fire trapped them in the penstock underground.

The deal will also resolve the families’ civil litigation claims against the company, said their attorney, Keith Killian. He declined further comment.

“We are within a razor’s edge of settling the case,” Peña told Chief U.S. District Judge Wiley Daniel.

Rescue Crews Blocked

The fire erupted Oct. 2, 2007, in an underground penstock where the painters had been cleaning spray equipment with solvents while working on a pipe sealing project. Vapor from the solvents ignited.

The fire blocked the only exit below, and rescue equipment was not available to pull out the workers from above. Rescue crews worked nearly two hours to try to reach Donald Dejaynes, 43; Dupree Holt, 37; James St. Peters, 52; Gary Foster, 48; and Anthony Aguirre, 18, all of California.

But all were trapped in the steeply angled tunnel and perished from smoke inhalation.

Executive Charges to be Dropped

The plea deal would probably include “substantial” compensation to the victims' survivors, Peña said in a story by The Post.

It would also, however, dismiss a charge of obstruction of justice and separate charges against RPI owner Philippe Goutagny and vice president James Thompson, Pena said

The obstruction-of-justice charge stems from allegations that company officials took cameras and log books from some of the dead workers' vehicles to cover up safety failures.

RPI hopes to have a deal completed and victim compensation paid before Christmas, company attorney Larry Pozner told the newspaper.

Daniel set a Dec. 19 hearing for RPI to formally enter a plea.

Xcel Acquittal

The announcement came nearly six months after a federal-court jury acquitted Xcel and subsidiary Public Service Co. of criminal charges in the disaster.

Xcel, RPI, Goutagny and Thompson were all indicted in August 2009. The indictment said the defendants were aware that the relining project posed serious health and safety hazards to the employees inside the penstock.

Prosecutors had argued that Xcel knew about, and ignored, the tunnel’s dangers in several ways, including not developing a rescue plan for emergencies and not having a working fire extinguisher on the site.

Peña had accused Xcel of hiring RPI over another company with a stronger safety plan, because RPI was the low bidder. Peña said that RPI’s standard safety rating fell short of Xcel’s usual expectations but that it won the contract anyway, “because they came in under budget.”

OSHA, CSB Citations

Both the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration and the U.S. Chemical Safety Board found that Xcel and RPI shared responsibility for the disaster.

In March 2008, OSHA proposed $845,100 in penalties against RPI and $189,900 against Xcel, saying the “catastrophe could have been avoided.”

The CSB said Xcel had failed to plan adequately for hazardous work that included taking flammable solvents inside a 4,300-foot tunnel. CSB detailed the disaster in an investigation video, No Escape: Dangers of Confined Spaces.

RPI lead attorney Michael Connelly has called the disaster “a tragic accident. We reject any attempt to characterize the Cabin Creek accident in any other way.”

   

Tagged categories: Explosions; Health and safety; Industrial Contractors; Laws and litigation; Lawsuits; Painters; RPI Coatings; Solvents; Tunnel; Violations

Comment from Car F., (12/6/2011, 10:41 AM)

This excellent news bulletin is starting to read like a crime journal, minus the gory photos. It is incredible the amount of criminal acts that some corporate gangsters are committing against workers.....and getting away with it. It appears that only the low IQ, poor, illiterate criminal serves time in jail, the corporate gangsters pay small fines, avoid jail time and continues living as if nothing happens. Indeed we need to get tough on crime, the corporate criminals are running amock.


Comment from Martin Neumann, (12/6/2011, 11:33 AM)

Using reports of the investigation of a tragic fatality accident as an "excellent" way to spread your propoganda is shameful in my opinion.


Comment from Patrick Kennerson, (12/6/2011, 11:59 AM)

It seems that the truth will never come out. Painters do NOT clean their spray equipment inside their work environment.


Comment from Car F., (12/7/2011, 10:48 AM)

I hope my comment wasn't interpreted as a criticism to this Journal; to the contrary, it is a comment on the level of criminality of the corporate gangsters who regularly injure, kill and discredit our otherwise honest and hardworking industry....Paint Square:keep up the good work exposing the criminals and informing us of their wherebaouts; consider it a public service to the honest contractor and users!!!


Comment from Jerry Trevino, (12/7/2011, 11:42 AM)

I love free speech. Even intellectuals and idiots alike have that right. In my perspective (limited due to little facts presented) I see a tragic accident. I am sure that the contracting owners and the facility owners did not expect this to happen, I am sure the workers did not either. Working painters and supervisors (again in my opinion) share some blame and responsibility in performing dangerous activities. In the case where owners are demanding workers to perform dangerous acts, the workers should just walk out and go home, find another safer employer or start their own business. In the case workers are perfuming dangerous acts on their own behalf, owners can not totally keep this from happening either. I have seen stupidity on both sides. Safety should be a common goal and directive. Workers blaming owners as gangsters is a bit overboard. Everyone should start their own business and hire workers just so that they know the demands placed on them, especially by workers. This appears to be a tragic accident. Both owners and workers should be working closely under unified goals and shared responsibilities versus hostility.


Comment from Jerry Trevino, (12/7/2011, 12:00 PM)

I love free speech. All of us regardless of position, educational level, wealth, health, etc, have that right. In my perspective (limited due to little facts presented here) I see a tragic accident. I am sure that the contracting owners and the facility owners did not expect this to happen, I am sure the workers did not either. Working painters and supervisors (again in my opinion) share some blame and responsibility in performing dangerous activities. In the case where owners are demanding workers to perform dangerous acts, the workers should just walk out and go home, find another safer employer or start their own business. In the case where workers are perfuming dangerous acts on their own behalf, owners can not totally keep this from happening either. I have seen stupidity on both sides. Safety should be a common goal and directive. Workers blaming owners as gangsters is a bit overboard. Everyone should start their own business and hire workers just so that they know the demands placed on them, especially by workers. This appears to be a tragic accident. Both owners and workers should be working closely under unified goals and shared responsibilities versus hostility. This type of divisive patterns have been used much too much especially in the last 3 years, poor vs rich (whatever that means), working families vs employers, minority vs non-minority, union vs non-union, etc, etc. We really need to stop this bull and restore America.


Comment from Car F., (12/8/2011, 10:56 AM)

Accidents don't "just happens", they all have clear and defined causes: human error, equipment failure, poor planning, lack of training, poor supervision...etc. The fundamental principle is this: the employer is the owner and controls the workplace. A worker cannot, on his own, order a new piece of equipment, institute a new safe work procedure or hire more people to help him do the task safely, those are the prerogatives of the employer/owner. The worker is responsible for using the safety equipment and following the safety procedures. The owner is responsible for training and supervising his workers in the safe performance of their duties and exercising due diligence with respect to the tasks being done. Almost in every instance involving and injury or fatality – as reported in this and other journals - the owner/employer pays a fine and goes home. In other words, killing and injuring people is part of the cost of doing business....and that is wrong. Paying fines is not a deterrence to corporate gangsters: they need to serve jail time....and also pay a fine, right now there is no deterrence. As for the argument of class warfare, I'll leave that to Social Scientist.


Comment from M. Halliwelll, (12/8/2011, 11:47 AM)

Car, I'm not sure how things are run in your jurisdiction, but where I am, employees have the right (and responsibility) to refuse the work if they feel it is dangerous. If the employer finds someone else to do it and the first employee feels it is unsafe, he/she can make that known to the employer and lodge a complaint with workplace health and safety (we have an anonymous "whistle-blower" line here too). We're also a jurisdiction where safety and environmental issues can and do result in jail time for the individual and responsible corporate officers. AlthoughI certainly realize there are other jurisdictions that do not appear to take employee and environmental safety as seriously, calling irresponsible companies "corporate gangsters" does nothing to prevent future incidents or improve the relationship between employees and employers. There are some very responsible companies out there that let the employees fix problems (including ordering equipment and/or extra people) as issues come up (with justification, of course, but that's for a different discussion). I think it better to leave this story as a tragic event that should have been avoided and to try to improve because if it, rather than delving into rhetoric.


Comment from Steve Sparks, (12/8/2011, 11:50 AM)

Comment from Patrick Kennerson, (12/6/2011, 11:59 AM): "It seems that the truth will never come out. Painters do NOT clean their spray equipment inside their work environment." They don't? Have you ever painted before? Do you take it back to the shop first? Do you see black helicopters overhead?


Comment from Jerry Trevino, (12/9/2011, 8:41 AM)

Workers have a lot of control. Regardless of all the training, added supervision, providing them new equipment, etc. Workers can decide to take drugs, be high on the job, light up and smoke, not follow safety rules and regulations. It is a shared accountability with all involved, owner, contractor and workers. I hate to be discussing this in the shadow of people that died, however, if an employee has the attitude that the employer is totally accountable for all accidents then than worker, employees needs to be replaced. That type of posture and attitude is a poisonous setting to allow accidents to happen. As an recent example, I asked my warehouse manager who is responsible for all events at the warehouse / shop to place bigger and more permanent NON-SMOKING signs. Guess what, he was smoking while he was placing the signs. Another employee took pictures of it. If a fire, had occurred, and the smoker gotten hurt, or in severely hurt others, who is responsible? the gangster owner or the protected species the worker? These incidents happen all the time. This is a catch 22 problem also. If you fire all employees who make these type of errors, you will not have enough employees, if you place all the gangster owners in jail, then the protected species will die off also. So the solution must involve all inclusive of a better regulators such as OSHA. We need an OSHA than can provide training centers and work closely with owners, contractors, and employees. We do not need more gestapo regulators and legislators.


Comment from Mike Hyde, (12/12/2011, 9:22 AM)

The root of the problem as I see it is that was there was only one way out, available. Why would this ever occur in this day of knowledge and equipment availability? I understand that in confined space there is always an outside person at the ready with with tools to remove those inside if a problem were to occur...?


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