Gas kills two workers, while working in a confined space

HMN- According to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Release of toxic gas at FirstEnergy’s Bruce Mansfield Power Plant claimed the lives of two workers and injured four others who were repairing a pipe in a confined, underground area at the Beaver County facility, officials said.

The accident happened at about 11:30 p.m. Tuesday, according to FirstEnergy spokeswoman Stephanie Walton.

State police at Beaver have identified the dead as Kevin Patrick Bachner, 34, of Pittsburgh, and John Michael Gorchock, 42, of Pittsburgh.

The injured were identified as Mark Wagner, 31, of Pulaski; Thomas Cantwell, 31, of Crafton; Nathaniel W. Compton, 31, of Wellsville, Ohio. and Michael Gorchock, 43, of Pittsburgh.

Police said the team was working for Enerfab Corp., headquartered in Cincinnati. Enerfab provides maintenance services to FirstEnergy, which owns the plant. Mr. Wagner is a FirstEnergy employee; the rest worked for Enerfab.

No information was available about the conditions of the injured workers.

The team of workers was working on pipe maintenance when the were “overcome” by gas, state police Cpl. Michael Miller said Wednesday morning.

A statement issued later by state police said:  “While working in a confined, well-type area, the workers removed an elbow joint in a pipe. In doing so, H2S (hydrogen sulfide) gas was released into the air in the confined space, incapacitating the workers.”

The release noted that Mr. Bachner and Mr. Gorchock were “unable to make it out of the well and died as a result.”

The injured “inhaled the gas but were able to make it out of the well.”

Occupational Safety and Health Administration describes H2S as a “highly flammable explosive gas” and notes it is “life-threatening.”

The power station is located in Shippingport Borough on Ferry Hill Road.

In addition to the dead and injured, there were two other workers in the vicinity but they were not injured, Ms. Walton said.

Cpl. Miller said the work was part of a lengthy maintenance project involving the piping equipment.

Enerfab CEO Scott Anderson said his company is “reaching out to the families to do what we can.” He said his firm “is deeply affected.”

OSHA, FirstEnergy and Enerfab are all investigating.

OSHA representatives were on site Wednesday.

The Bruce Mansfield Power Plant is FirstEnergy’s largest coal-fired plant. OSHA has inspected the plant six times since 2007, according to online records maintained by OSHA. Two of those inspections, one in 2011 and the other in 2013, resulted in violations that for which FirstEnergy paid $15,500 to settle.

Other workers were at the plant at the time of Wednesday’s incident, but they did not need to be evacuated, Ms. Walton said.

“There was no threat to public safety or to other workers at the plant,” she said.

The plant was operating on Wednesday.

Karen Kane:

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