October 7, 2007 The Pump Handle 6Comment

Carolynn Dejaynes had visited the tunnel at the Xcel Energy’s Cabin Creek hydro-electric plant the day before it claimed her husband’s life and that of four other employees of Robison-Prezioso Inc. (RPI).  Mrs. Dejaynes says:

“It shouldn’t have happened.  There were things that could have been done to prevent it.”

According to Kirk Mitchell of The Denver Post (here) the new widow has talked with some of the men who survived the tunnel fire and

“wants to know exactly what happened to her husband, in part because he took her to see the tunnel the day before the fire and told her it was dangerous. ‘I said ‘Hurry, this doesn’t look safe’ and he said, ‘it isn’t. There was only one entrance.”

“On Tuesday after the fire erupted, flames from the spraying machine were leaping onto Donnie Dejaynes’ sleeves as he tried to shut off a valve on the sprayer. ‘He kept catching himself on fire’ [an he] was yelling for the other men to get fire extinguishers.  Although they found a few, the extinguishers were useless because they did not have the type of foam that puts chemical fires out.”

The Denver Post is also reporting

“Contractors used a highly flammable solvent to thin epoxy until vapors from the solvent ignited a fire that killed five workers in a tunnel near Georgetown last week, officials and family members said Saturday.  The solvent, methyl ethyl ketone, or MEK, is dangerous because its vapors are heavier than air and can travel great distances near the ground in confined spaces. It can be ignited by sparks or static electricity, according to industry safety guidelines. 

‘When it flashed, it was just lucky if you were on the right side of the fire,’ Eric Thomas, one of the workers who escaped from the tunnel.  ‘I was lucky because I was on the other side 10 minutes before.  I just wish I never watched it happen. It’s like nothing I’ve ever been through in my life.'”

“Donnie Dejaynes’ father, Donald Dejaynes, said his son called days before the fire and told him he had safety concerns.  He cautioned his son to keep a log of all his concerns.  Now the log is missing, Carolynn Dejaynes said.”

CBS4Denver.com notes (here) that Cal/OSHA assessed penalties totalling $44,500 against RPI for the 2002 death of Mr. Darryl Clemons at the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge project.  Clemons, 33 was pinned against a 18,000 pound suspended work platform when it buckled.  Four other workers were injured in the incident.

“The company has also run afoul of other regulatory agencies.  In 2002, Robison-Prezioso was found in violation of hazardous waste regulations while working to remove paint coatings from storage tanks on U.S. Navy property in Hawaii.  …The company was accused of treating hazardous waste without a permit, among other violations, and fined $217,640.  Last year, the company agreed to pay $145,000 to settle complaints from the California Department of Toxic Substances Control over lead abatement and recoating work on the Bay Bridge.  The company was accused of violations involving hazardous waste disposal and transportation as well as making false statements. The problems were uncovered during inspections by the California agency between 2000 and 2004.” 

RPI’s website boasts:

“Robison-Prezioso takes no chances and cuts no corners where the safety of the public, our people and your project is concerned.”

The firm is a wholly-owned subsidiary of PREZIOSO Group with headquarters in Lyon, France.  They report having 2,000 employees working in over 25 countries world wide “providing outstanding painting, coating and fireproofing services.”

They also provide a list of some of their biggests ongoing projects (here) including:

  • Cape Canaveral Air Station, Florida
  • Hoover Dam, Las Vegas, NV
  • Exxon Oil Tanks in San Ynes, CA
  • Texas City, TX Nuclear Facility

The Denver Post reports that Mr. Donnie Dejaynes, was the RPI foreman supervising at the Xcel Energy Cabin Creek job.  It makes me wonder: do supervisors and foreman working for RPI have the authority to shut down jobs they believe are unsafe?  What means do they have to insist on safe and healthy practices for their crew? 

Under the Mine Act, miners have the right to refuse unsafe work.*  No similar protection is provided to workers covered by the OSH Act, but would a supervisor—as a representative of the employer—be instructed by top management to do so? 


*Although miners have this right, some are reluctant to exercise it because of fear of retribution from the mine operator. (A topic for another day.)

6 thoughts on ““I’m only 31 and I’m a widow”

  1. This sounds like a very bad story from the coal mining days of the 1970s in the backwaters of India, rather than a 21st century occurrence in the one of the most developed nations.

    The right to refuse unsafe work exists pretty much everywhere else too, but workers pretty much elsewhere too refuse to do it. This is clearly driven by the power imbalance in practice. Where is the disincentive for the ‘management’ side against creating and letting flourish such dangerous work conditions?

    Which is why in the UK we considered ‘corporate manslaughter’ as a category of offences.

    Life is probably only valued when one’s own hangs in the balance too.

  2. Shefaly,
    Can you provide a link or reference to the “corporate manslaughter” category? I’d love to read more about that.

    If it’s true that life is only valued when it is your own that hangs in the balance, how would one explain the situations when supervisors are killed right along with their crew? One of the men killed a the Xcel tunnel was an RPI foreman and recognized the danger of working in a confined space with only one exit. But there must be something going on in the organizational dynamic for the men (whether hourly or salary) to feel like they couldn’t speak up about their safety concerns.

  3. Perhaps you’re right about the dynamics Celeste. But you also have to add in the “It will never happen to me” ingredient. That’s part of the reason employees don’t refuse unsafe work and part of the reason companies don’t fix it in the first place. People are very, very bad at gauging risk.

    Note this entry at Workers’ Comp Insider: http://www.workerscompinsider.com/archives/000668.html

    (By the way, if Workers’ Comp Insider isn’t on your blogroll, they should be. I’ve found the site to be very insightful.)

  4. Oh yeah “the it can’t happen to me factor.” You’re absolutely right. I knew there was some other dynamic going on there. Thanks.

  5. Celeste:

    Here is the link from the Crown Prosecution Service in the UK:


    As it says: corporate manslaughter will “normally be considered in the context of involuntary manslaughter by means of gross negligence”.

    However the culture of the organisation may only be a minor factor. Some firms truly believe they provide an open culture but one look at public fora, such as Vault (I know mining workers probably do not use that forum), and you see a different truth.

    Culture is a jointly owned if somewhat ephemeral entity. Employees are as responsible in the social contract as ‘management’ might be, I think.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.