APOLLO BEACH, Fla — It's been nearly five years since five workers lost their lives and another was seriously burned by molten slag in a terrible industrial explosion at the Tampa Electric Company's Big Bend Power Station electrical power plant.
And, it's been just about as long since TECO was cited by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). Now, TECO has submitted a plea agreement in federal court, stating the company was guilty of violating OSHA standards that resulted in the five deaths.
According to court documents, TECO has negotiated with each of the workers' families and privately settled with them in civil court. If the federal court accepts the plea agreement, the money paid out to the families will count as full restitution made by the company.
The agreement also states TECO has been cooperating throughout the entire OSHA investigation, also agreeing to pay a $500,000 fine, the Associated Press reports.
On June 29, 2017, five contractors and one TECO employee were trying to remove debris from one of the slag tanks when an accidental explosion happened.
Two people died in the explosion. Three others died later after being rushed to the hospital.
The Big Bend Power Station electrical plant has four large, coal-fired furnaces. A byproduct of the furnaces was molten slag, which can reach 1,000 degrees Fahrenheit.
In 2018, TECO announced Big Bend would be getting upgrades as part of the company's commitment to clean energy. Its coal-fired Unit 1 stack would be converted to natural gas. Unit 2, where the explosion took place, was slated for a 2021 retirement.
"All of us at Tampa Electric hold the families of our late colleagues and coworkers in our hearts. We have accepted full responsibility, and we hold ourselves accountable as we continuously work to improve our safety programs and safety culture," Archie Collins, president and chief executive officer of TECO, said in a statement.
"I want to thank our dedicated employees at Big Bend, and throughout the company, for their efforts to honor the memories of those lost and injured, as well as their commitment to provide our customers with safe, reliable electricity – while maintaining a safety-first mindset every minute of every day."