OSHA fines over winter home explosion top six figures
The combined fines levied against all four companies in connection to Aspen-area home explosion now over $100,000
Two more subcontractors face fines for violating federal workplace safety laws in connection to the February explosion of an Aspen area home that was under construction.
A plumbing, heating and cooling company in Glenwood Springs has agreed to pay $30,000 in penalties to the Occupational Safety and Hazard Administration. And a Gypsum firm that specializes in VAC, electrical, water heating, and automation services faces $10,773 in fines, according to public records.
It was reported last week that two the project’s general contractor and subcontractor had agreed to pay separate fine totals of $27,000 and $40,000.
The combined fines levied against all four companies now amount to $107,773.
Four workers on the project site, 173 Slalom Path Road, were hospitalized from the Feb. 3 explosion. Ambulance personnel had to remove one worker with leg injuries from the kitchen area inside the collapsed home, according to an investigation report. Four others were treated on the scene for less serious injuries. Close to 30 workers were on the site.
Investigating agencies included Aspen Fire Protection District; Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives; Colorado Department of Fire Prevention and Control; and OSHA.
An investigation led by Benjamin Smith, deputy fire marshal for the Aspen Fire Department, concluded the explosion was accidental and originated in the home’s crawl space where natural gas had built up. The explosion resulted in damage to windows, doors, flooring, and both interior and exterior walls.
“The release of natural gas into the confined space below the kitchen reached the explosive range,” said Smith’s investigation report.
The two-level, 8,250-square-foot single-family home was one of three luxury homes under construction on Slalom Path. The home’s designs called for a media lounge, wine storage, a gym, a mudroom, a powder room, a sculpture garden and other features.
“Based on the systematic fire scene examination, analysis of witness statements, fire and heat patterns, explosion effects and the application of fire / explosion dynamics, it was the unanimous opinion of the fire investigators that the fuel-air explosion originated in the south crawlspace, located adjacent to the gym and underneath the kitchen and family room,” according to an investigation report from the ATF.
A plumber and electrician were in the crawl space when the explosion occurred. The plumber said he saw a flame emanate from a switch or switch plate after the electrician touched it.
The plumber told investigators “the electrician was in the same room with me. All pumps in mechanical room were on. As soon as (the electrician) turned the switch off to one of the pumps I saw a flame coming from the switch he touched that caused the explosion. We were pushed back by the pressure. I was able to exit the room through the existing access facing the basement gym. As drywall was collapsing (the electrician) and I made our way out from the basement as we were screaming for everyone to get out, that’s when I noticed he was bleeding from his hand. We proceeded to exit the building. I borrowed a crescent wrench from one of the workers to shut off the gas at the meter.”
The investigations could not conclusively determine the cause of the ignition.
“The plumber describes bleeding the gas line in the confined space as he was trying to attach the gas lines to the boilers and furnaces,” the ATF report said. “The combination of the natural gas atmosphere and an ignition source resulted in the explosion. The gas line valve in the basement is observed to be fully open, indicating that the gas could have been flowing. The exact ignition source cannot be proven.”
Smith’s report drew a similar conclusion: “An unidentified ignition source came in contact with the natural gas. The air fuel mixture resulted in the explosion. It is the opinion of Aspen Fire Protection District and Deputy Fire Marshal Smith that the explosion was not suspicious.”
The fined parties were cited for or violating OHSA regulations related to workers entering confined areas, like a crawl space; not having an employee evaluate the crawl space for any potential hazards; not communicating about the required permit space program; or not having properly trained employees on the site.
The general contractor, Basalt-based Brikor Associates, agreed to pay five separate fines of $8,000. Carbondale-based R&A Enterprises agreed to pay three separate fines of $9,000 to OSHA as part of an informal settlement agreement. Young Services LLC accepted five penalties totaling $30,000; and Gypsum-based Skyline Mechanical Inc. has two fine amounts pending in the amount of $10,773.
The home was owned by RBR 4 LLC and insured by Cincinnati Insurance, according to the investigation reports.
The chief operating officer of RH recently said the retailer’s presence will invigorate downtown Aspen by day and wake it up at night, but they’ll need some help from the Aspen Historic Preservation Commission.
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