Georgia Power reviewing OSHA sanctions after Bowen explosion

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) said Sept. 27 that it is fining Southern (NYSE:SO) subsidiary Georgia Power $119,000 for 17 serious violations following an April explosion at Plant Bowen in Cartersville, Ga.

Bowen Unit 2 remains out-of-service following the blast and is undergoing repairs, a Southern spokesperson told GenerationHub Sept. 27. Prior to announcement of the OSHA sanction, Southern had been doing its own investigation and making corrective actions.

The Southern spokesperson also said the company was still reviewing the OSHA action and it is too early to say whether the company might contest some of the violations cited by the Labor Department agency.

Georgia Power has the right to request an informal conference with OSHA’s area director, or contest the findings before the independent Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission.

“Fortunately, no one was injured or killed as a result of this explosion,” said Christi Griffin, director of OSHA’s Atlanta-West Area Office. “Our inspection found several serious safety hazards that the company must address immediately to protect its workers. It is a fundamental responsibility of employers to ensure a safe workplace.”

The serious violations found at Plant Bowen include a failure to comply with OSHA’s tagout procedures for power generation plants; ensure that the worker in charge conducted a safety briefing with workers before they start each job; use a tagout system without demonstrating it solely can provide full workers’ protection; develop, document and use procedures to control potentially hazardous energy; and describe the scope, purpose, responsibility, authorization and techniques for maintenance procedures.

Other violations include failing to follow specific procedures to remove and transfer tagout devices; perform an annual inspection of all energy control procedures; use the shutdown procedures established for each machine or equipment; prohibit ignition sources near hydrogen or hydrogen sealing systems; assign a worker the responsibility for overall tagout control; and verify the isolation and de-energization of the machine or equipment.

The Southern spokesperson noted that OSHA did not allege any “willful” violations on the company’s part. Following the accident Southern has done a review that included people from outside the company. Since the accident, Southern has developed a new company policy for addressing hydrogen, the spokesperson said.

An internal investigation indicated that the explosion occurred as personnel were taking steps to prepare Unit 2 for work during a planned maintenance outage, which included a multi-step process to purge hydrogen from the generator. Failure to comply with procedures, along with a breakdown in communication, led to a combustible mixture of hydrogen and air inside the generator, the Southern spokesperson said.

Georgia Power was able to repair Units 3 and 4 and those units were brought back into service in May. The GenerationHub database gives these net summer capacities for the Bowen units: Unit 1 (724 MW); Unit 2 (724 MW); Unit 3 (892 MW); and Unit 4 (862 MW).

About Wayne Barber 4201 Articles
Wayne Barber, Chief Analyst for the GenerationHub, has been covering power generation, energy and natural resources issues at national publications for more than 20 years. Prior to joining PennWell he was editor of Generation Markets Week at SNL Financial for nine years. He has also worked as a business journalist at both McGraw-Hill and Financial Times Energy. Wayne also worked as a newspaper reporter for several years. During his career has visited nuclear reactors and coal mines as well as coal and natural gas power plants. Wayne can be reached at wayneb@pennwell.com.