TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) — Tampa Electric Company was sentenced for charges of “willfully violating” work safety guidelines from the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration. In 2017, a coal-fired power plant exploded, killing five employees. They died at the Big Bend Power Station in Apollo Beach.

Coal-fired power plants use furnaces fill with water “slag tanks” to catch molten slag dripping from the furnaces. On June 29, 2017, the U.S. Department of Justice said furnaces at the plant in question had “hardened slag [which] had accumulated at the top and the bottom of one of the slag tanks and could not be removed.”

Despite the risk, TECO chose to have a contract come in to “perform high-pressure water blasting to try and clear the slag with the unit on-line. The work proceeded even though the procedure for this work could not be located.” USDOJ said they chose to do the high-pressure cleaning rather than shut down the furnace.

In the process, some of the slag accumulations came loose, according to USDOJ, “spraying the area with molten slag.” The explosion killed five TECO workers at the plant. The Department of Justice said the lack of a safety plan is a class B misdemeanor, for failing to follow the OSHA safety requirements and standards, when the failure causes the deaths of at least one worker.

It’s the only type of federal criminal charge related to workplace safety, according to USDOJ.

Only one of the victims was a TECO employee, according to previous coverage by WFLA.com, the rest were contractors working on cleaning the furnace.

The victims were identified as:

  • Antonio Navarrete
  • Christopher Irvin
  • Michael McCort
  • Frank Lee Jones
  • Armando Perez

“Tragically, five individuals lost their lives on June 29, 2017, following the explosion at the TECO facility. Our hearts go out to the victims’ families as well as other TECO employees and contractors impacted by this catastrophic event,” U.S. Attorney Roger B. Handberg for the Middle District of Florida said. “Our office is proud to have partnered with DOJ’s Environmental Crimes Section, the FBI, and the Department of Labor, Office of Inspector General to shine a light on this willful violation of OSHA safety standards in order to deter such conduct and ensure that workers are protected in the future.”

TECO previously pleaded guilty to the charge in May, now the USDOJ reports the company has been delivered its sentence. As a result, Judge Charlene Honeywell sentenced TECO to a $500,000 fine and three years of probation. The company will also have to make a safety compliance plan.

As part of TECO’s plea agreement, they admitted to willfully failing to have pre-job briefings with the workers, according to USDOJ. The briefing, had it been held, would have had to include information about the job’s relevant hazards, outline work procedures, special precautions for the work, energy source controls, and personal protective equipment needs.

The work instead happened without that briefing. USDOJ said proper procedures for the work to be done were not found, and “certain critical safety-related steps were not taken,” leading to the deaths of five individuals in “an explosion caused a violent release of molten slag throughout the work area.”

With the legal process complete, Tampa Electric president and CEO Archi Collins gave the following statement.

“We reaffirm our commitment to hold ourselves accountable for this tragedy, and to ensure our people are safe as part of the world-class safety culture all of us at Tampa Electric are working together to build,” Collins said.