WIPP Worker Harmed by Vehicle Fire Sues Operators for Negligence


Runs 8/22/14 through 8/29/14

(THEME UP AND UNDER)  This is the CCNS News Update, an overview of the latest nuclear safety issues, brought to you every week by Concerned Citizens for Nuclear Safety.  Here is this week’s top headline:

* WIPP Worker Harmed by Vehicle Fire Sues Operators for Negligence

William Utter, a waste handler at the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP), and his family filed a personal injury lawsuit in the New Mexico District Court in Santa Fe against the current and former contractors for injuries sustained when the salt hauling truck caught fire on February 5, 2014.   Utter continues to suffer from smoke inhalation and other injuries.  The family is suing Southwest Safety Specialists, Inc., a company charged with maintaining the fire suppression system; Nuclear Waste Partnership, LLC, the current operating contractor; Washington TRU Solutions, LLC, the previous operating contractor; and URS Energy and Construction, the lead partner operating contractor; for personal injury, negligence, premises liability, intentional and willful conduct, loss of consortium, damages, and punitive damages.  The Utters are asking for a six-person jury trial.  Utter v. Southwest Safety Specialists, Inc., Nuclear Waste Partnership, LLC, Washington TRU Solutions, LLC, URS Energy & Construction, Inc.

Utter was in the underground mine when the salt hauling vehicle caught on fire.  He was among the 86 workers who were evacuated, some who had difficulty seeing the markers indicating the way to the elevator hoist to exit the mine located 2,150 feet below the surface.  Utter was one of the 13 workers who were treated for smoke inhalation.  He continues to be treated by respiratory specialists in Albuquerque and Denver.

The complaint relies upon the facts uncovered during the internal Department of Energy (DOE) investigation by the Accident Investigation Board.  http://energy.gov/em/articles/doe-finalizes-wipp-fire-investigation-report  It found that the underground mine fire was entirely preventable and that the DOE and its WIPP contractors created dangerous conditions for the workers.

The salt hauling truck is nearly 30 years old.  In 2003, Southwest Safety Specialists removed the automatic fire suppression system from the truck and installed a manual fire suppression system, which failed to perform properly.  In 2005, there was another fire involving this vehicle, caused by an electrical short.  Nevertheless, the contractors did not reinstall the automatic fire suppression system.

On February 5th, the truck operator tried to use the manual fire suppression system and a portable fire extinguisher, which both failed.  As a result, the fire created and spread extensive smoke, soot, toxins, and other dangerous airborne particulates and chemicals in the underground.  Further, the evacuation alarm was not adequate, the public address system did not work properly, and the contractors switched the air system from ventilation to filtration, contrary to standard mine safety requirements.  DOE and its contractors did not adequately train the workers for underground fires and some workers struggled with using the self-rescue respiratory masks.

Nuclear Waste Partnership became the operating contractor in October 2012 for a five-year contract term, with a five-year extension option through September 30, 2022.  The possible value of the 10-year contract exceeds $1.3 billion.

This has been the CCNS News Update.  For more information, please visit http://www.nuclearactive.org and like us on Facebook. 



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