TECO could raise rates after being fined for fatal accident

TECO may raise rates after an accident that killed five people.

APOLLO BEACH- Five Tampa Electric workers died and another suffered serious burns in an incident at TECO's Big Bend Power Plant in June.

This week, Tampa Electric along with Gaffin Industrial Services were cited by the U.S. Department of Labor's Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA).

Our partners at The Tampa Bay Times found that this incident could actually raise the price on your TECO bill.

The Florida Public Service Commission has the power to decide what cost, if any, TECO can pass along to customers.

They can't charge you for fines cited by OSHA but can make you pay for the power or fuel it had to buy because of the accident.

The decision by the PSC could take months.

OSHA issued Tampa Electric "two grouped willful violations” costing $126,749. That's the most serious type of citation.

It means the company intentionally disregarded its rules or just looked the other way.

Here is the exact definition from OSHA: A willful violation is defined as a violation in which the employer either knowingly failed to comply with a legal requirement (purposeful disregard) or acted with plain indifference to employee safety.

OSHA also cited TECO three grouped "serious violations" for failing to provide workers with protective gear. This one costing $12,675.

Gaffin Industrial Services has been cited for four serious violations, three of which were grouped.

TECO released the following statement:

This accident has forever changed our company; the families of those affected remain our priority. We respect OSHA’s process and have participated fully with their investigation as a valuable part of understanding what happened. However, we respectfully disagree with the suggestion we were willful or deliberately indifferent to the safety of workers. We cannot change what happened, but we are committed to learning from it to ensure nothing like this happens again. Since the incident, our team and the union have been working hard together to improve safety, including reviewing and improving work procedures, strengthening the safety language in our collective bargaining agreement, and developing a long-term strategy to improve our safety culture. We are more focused on safety than ever before. As part of the process, we will meet with OSHA to discuss the citations and to determine our next steps.

TECO spokeswoman Cherie Jacobs told us back in September that they have permanently banned that type of work while the unit is online. She reassured us this week that it’s still banned.

We spoke with Heather McCort, who lost her father Michael in the accident. He was 60 years old.

“It's something I hope no family ever has to go through,” says McCort.

Michael McCort was a senior plant operator who worked for TECO for over 35 years, he was one of two workers who died at the scene.

“That’s the reason that these procedures are put into place, to prevent people from dying," she said. "Obviously, they didn't follow their own procedures. Something like this, to this magnitude, could have been prevented. I think.”

The Tampa Bay Times published an editorial that says TECO got a slap on the wrist for the death of those 5 workers.

Now, it's up to OSHA to decide whether to refer the case to the U.S. Department of Justice to consider criminal charges.

We looked into this, There's only been a few people who have gone to jail after an OSHA investigation.

Here are a couple:

Back in 2015, a Construction company owner and project manager were sentenced to two years in prison for involuntary manslaughter after a wall of dirt crushed one of their workers to death. This happened in California.

Here in Florida, you may remember this one.

In 1995, a construction worker fell 150 feet while retrieving equipment from a tower in Jacksonville. He was not wearing any safety equipment.

The owners of South East Towers, were each sentenced to three months in prison.

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