The North Carolina Department of Labor (NCDOL) recently levied fines totaling $21,200 against PSNC Energy (PSNC) and two of its subcontractors for their actions resulting in a fatal gas-line explosion in downtown Durham last April (). The explosion killed two men, the owner of a local coffee shop and a PSNC worker responding to the gas leak, and injured 25 others.
During the process of installing fiber optic cable, PSNC subcontractor Optic Cable Technology Inc. was found to have failed to dig a test hole to determine the precise location of the underground gas line prior to drilling. Natural gas was released for “an extended period of time,” leading to a fire and explosion.
PSNC, operating as Dominion Energy North Carolina, was cited for “ineffective response procedures” that exposed a first responder to danger from fire and explosion. Another subcontractor, PS Splicing, was cited for failing to make sufficient inspections of the job site.
“The penalties are in no way designed to make up for loss of life,” said NCDOL spokesperson Dolores Quesenberry. The department takes into consideration “the gravity of the violation, the size of the business, the good faith of the employer and the history of previous violations,” Quesenberry added.
“We respectfully disagree with NCDOL’s conclusion that Dominion Energy did not have adequate procedures in place for our employees’ personal safety,” PSNC said in a statement. “The NCDOL citation refers to guidelines for protecting the safety of employees who are ‘exposed to a compressed natural gas spill.’” PSNC argued that the law did not apply because its employee was not responding to a “compressed natural gas spill,” but “a reported leak on our natural gas distribution system, which is entirely different from a compressed natural gas spill.”
PSNC also pledged to learn from “this tragic incident,” despite challenging the state’s findings on a technicality. Once again, a giant energy company gives lip service to safety while doing everything within its power to maximize profits and avoid responsibility for its actions.
If you have been injured in a natural gas explosion, it is crucial that you hire an experienced attorney to protect your rights. Please call DBJ today at 1-800-875-5972 for a free consultation.