Accepting Responsibility: Consumers Energy Redoubles Already Stringent Safety Program After Explosion

By Jeff Griffin, Senior Editor | May 2013, Vol. 68 No. 5
Garrick Rochow, Consumers Energy vice president of energy delivery

In most incidents involving accidental damage to utilities that result in serious injury or death, investigations continue for a lengthy period of time with little information about what actually caused the accident. Statements issued by these organizations are carefully worded and reviewed by attorneys with a primary goal of deflecting blame from themselves.

Only two weeks after the accident, the utility provider came forward and pointed the finger at itself.

“We have a commitment to safety and are transparent and open regarding this responsibility,” Garrick Rochow, Consumers Energy vice president of energy delivery, said in an interview with Underground Construction magazine. “Typically, we have 12 directional drilling crews in operation, five composed of our trained personnel, and the others are subcontractors. We have stringent safety guidelines for operating this equipment and in this instance, they were not followed.”

Those guidelines require potholing to visibly expose buried pipe or cable any time a bore path crosses or comes in close proximity to a utility.

“That day our crew was in the process of relocating a gas line as part of a street project,” said Rochow. “The crew did not dig around the gas line to expose it and confirm the bore was not on a path to strike the pipe. That is the cause of this incident.”

To help allay safety concerns, before displaced residents returned to their homes Consumers Energy employees tested for the presence of gas in and around homes, verified appliances were relit and operating, and pressure-tested customer-owned fuel lines of each home.

A team of employees met with residents and businesses in a wider area around the site, identifying any concerns and offering additional safety testing.

“We have reached out to the Royal Oak School District offering safety training and educational programs for students, teachers and administrators,” said Rochow.

Throughout the year, Consumers Energy conducts a number of ongoing, safety programs added Rochow, including: