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Inspectors Find Safety And Leadership Concerns At TVA’s Gallatin Plant

An independent review of TVA's Gallatin Fossil Plant found workers are concerned about safety, leadership and overtime.
Brian Latimer
An independent review of TVA's Gallatin Fossil Plant found workers are concerned about safety, leadership and overtime.

Hear the radio version of this story.

Gallatin Fossil Plant, one of several coal-fired power plants in the Tennessee Valley Authority's network, has been cited for ineffective leadership and safety concerns. 

That comes from TVA's Office of Inspector General, an independent arm that looked into the utility's business operations and interviewed employees over a four-year period.

It found several strengths. Employees say there's supervisor support and managers are good at setting goals. But inspectors alsofound employees are concerned about low staffing, increased overtime and safety.

These issues, they say, revolve around the plant’s "dual-unit operation strategy." This approach has one operator look over two coal boiler units, rather than one unit. It's a cost-cutting measure used across TVA's fleet of coal-fired plants.  

The OIG says workers are concerned inadequate staffing has increased overtime, and the report shows overtime in the operations department has increased 31 percent between 2015 and 2017. Workers said this would increase potential danger if tired employees aren't able to respond to boiler unit emergencies effectively. 

Safety concerns were also raised about new pollution controls equipment, including scrubbers installed at the plant to reduce sulfur dioxide emissions. Employees said they hadn't received adequate training or guidance over operation of these scrubbers, which can expose them to ammonia. 

TVA's Gallatin site had three safety violations in 2017 around these same issues. 

"The root cause of these events was related to communication, ownership, and being overwhelmed with workload and available resources, among other things," Stefanie Hoglund, communications specialist for TVA's Office of Inspector General, wrote in an email to WPLN.  

Scott Fiedler, spokesperson for TVA, says the utility appreciates having independent inspectors look into its operations.  In response, the utility is shifting employees' responsibilities. "This is to ensure the safe control and efficiency of the plant and also allows them the ability to better identify equipment abnormalities and react to them in a timely fashion," said Fiedler. He adds that TVA has also created a new engineering manager position to improve leadership and provide more resources for staff.  And, Hoglund confirms overtime has dropped at the plant over the past six months.  "Gallatin management has informed us that they are working to improve relationships between departments through new managers and giving more of a voice to employees in their Health and Safety meetings," wrote Hoglund. 

OIG's look into TVA's plants follows the utility's 2017 Three-Year Enterprise Risk Profile. It said in "recent years, TVA has faced internal and external economic pressures," and it's had to implement "cost-cutting measures." Environmental groups have sued the utility for allegedly violating the Clean Water Act by leaking coal ash into the Cumberland River. But both Fiedler and Hoglund say this report it is not related to the plant's handling of coal ash, and a federal appeals court recently ruled that TVA's is not in violation.  

Copyright 2018 WPLN News

Shalina Chatlani is the 2018-19 Emerging Voices Fellow. Previously she was the associate editor for Education Dive, a contributing reporter for The Rio Times in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, and an intern for Mississippi Public Broadcasting. Shalina graduated from Georgetown University's School of Foreign Service with an undergraduate degree in Science, Technology and International Affairs and later graduated from Georgetown's Graduate School of Arts and Sciences with a master's degree in Communication, Culture and Technology. Shalina is a fan of live music, outer space discussions and southern literature.