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Painting Company Admits Guilt in Death of Five Workers at Georgetown Plant

Four years ago, nine men went to work at the Cabin Creek Hydroelectric Plant near Georgetown, Colorado. Their employer, RPI Coating, Inc., of Santa Fe, Colorado, had a contract with Xcel Energy to recoat an existing water pipeline to prevent corrosion. A chemical fire ignited in the pipeline and five of the workers were trapped about 1,500 feet down the 4,000 foot tunnel system.

Rescuers attempted to lower a fresh air tube and masks to the trapped workers, but were unable to confirm that the breathing aids reached the painters. The men were trapped by the Colorado workplace accident for over three hours. They did not have appropriate gear to climb out of the tunnel and the fire prevented them from exiting below. When rescuers were finally able to reach them, a combination of smoke asphyxiation and carbon monoxide poisoning had already resulted in their deaths.

Earlier this month, RPI admitted fault in the death of the five workers and pleaded guilty to five workplace safety violations that resulted in death. A majority of the $1.65 million in compensation and fines will go to the family members of the deceased workers as payment for dependency and death benefits.

RPI will be on probation for the next five years and will be monitored by the U.S. Probation Department for issues related to workplace safety. If they fail to improve their safety practices, RPI could face an additional $2.5 million in fines related to the Cabin Creek pipeline disaster.

Further investigation revealed the cause of the fire in the pipeline. A spray gun used by the RPI painters to apply a mixture of epoxy and paint to the pipe was not working properly. While adding solvent to warm the mixture, the heating element turned on, causing the vapors to catch fire, ultimately trapping the 5 workers between the downward exit and an upward exit that included a 55-degree incline.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) conducted its own investigation into the whether the crew had the proper maintenance and safety training and whether safety procedures were documented and being followed correctly. The four workers who were able to escape were treated and released.

Source: The Denver News Channel, "Painting Company Pleads Guilty In Fire Deaths," 19 December 2011

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