ESB explosion ‘not due to human error’

ESB investigators have ruled out human error in the explosion which killed two workers at the Tarbert generating station last month. But initial investigations have failed to establish the cause of the fire and explosion in the Co Kerry station.

A briefing report for the ESB’s workforce disclosed: “Due to the extensive damage in the switchgear cubicle, it has proved difficult to pinpoint the cause of the accident.”

The specialist ESB team which carried out the internal inquiry is continuing its investigation. The company’s final report on the Tarbert tragedy is expected within a matter of weeks.

A separate investigation by a Limerick-based inspector of the Health and Safety Authority (HSA) is also continuing.

A HSA spokesperson said yesterday: “It’s an extensive and complex investigation especially since it involves two deaths. The authority does not issue an interim report on any investigation and a final report, in this case, is not expected for several months.”

The lunchtime accident at the oil-fired power station on July 3 occurred in a switchgear cubicle. Electrical instrumentation supervisor Michael Healy, 48, a father-of-three from Tarbert, and electrician Patrick McCrohan, 38, from Tralee sustained fatal injuries in the accident.

A third worker in the unit, Dermot Thornton, 43, from Corbally, Limerick, survived the explosion. He suffered serious burns but is making a good recovery.

In the past week, the 160 workers at the Co Kerry plant and at power stations countrywide were given an up-to-date briefing on the investigation. ESB workers were told “that the operations by the staff involved conformed with normal practices in power generation”.

The interim report said the accident occurred when a 6.6kv circuit breaker feeding a motor in the powerstation was closed and the explosion followed in the switchgear room.

The report noted emergency procedures were operated properly. It also commended the response of the staff in Tarbert station and the emergency services. An ESB spokesperson said the briefing was to keep staff abreast with the progress of the investigation.

“Safety of staff and the public is the top priority in ESB’s operations,” the company said.

The ESB said it was continuing to fully co-operate with the HSA. A spokesperson said while the investigation was continuing, it was not possible to comment further. However, pressed on whether safety at the plant was under review, the spokesperson said: “Certain measures remain in place until the inquiry is completed.”

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