Worker fatalities are a major concern for companies and
trade groups in the raw materials, metals recycling,
production, distribution and fabrication industries, which are
placing great emphasis on boosting safety even in a down
economy. And although the metals sector's track record has
improved in the past year, there is still room for further
There were 1,156 recordable safety incidents at U.S. steel
plants last year, down nearly 38 percent from 1,861 accidents
in 2008, according to a "safety incident report" issued by the
Steel Manufacturers Association, Washington. The SMA report
shows just two fatalities at member companies in 2009, down
from seven the previous year; taking into account contractor
fatalities at members' operations, the SMA pegged the 2008
figure at 12.
By AMM's unofficial count, the 2008 death toll was
at least 25, with 19 workers killed in steel or steel-related
plants in North America and at least six others killed in
accidents at upstream or downstream steel operations.
And while the number of steel industry deaths was greatly
diminished last year, it should be noted that the number of
hours worked in 2009 was down almost 23 percent to 72.4 million
man hours due to the recession, according to the SMA.
A total of five fatalities have occurred in steel and
related industries so far this year.
In an effort to conserve costs, most steel companies cut
capital expenditures drastically in 2009, but they didn't skimp
on safety initiatives.
Accidents happen nonetheless.
A worker at Follansbee, W.Va.-based coal producer Mountain
State Carbon LLC died Feb. 20 when a large chunk of ice fell on
him from a coal conveyor. A spokeswoman for parent company
Severstal North America Inc., Dearborn, Mich., said the
employee was wearing a hard hat at the time.
At Evraz Inc. North America's Portland, Ore., steel plant, a
worker died on Jan. 7 after being crushed by a 5-foot-tall
stack of steel as he worked in the plate heat-treat
A Beta Steel Corp. worker died of blunt force trauma
following a January explosion at the company's Portage, Ind.,
plant. The accident, which resulted in the brief
hospitalization of other employees for treatment of burns,
occurred in the melt shop, where molten steel erupted at the
electric-arc furnace. The accident followed a similar incident
at Beta two months earlier where four workers were injured-none
fatally-when slag spilled in the melt shop.
Even processors and durable goods manufacturers have
accidents involving metal products. A worker at Galland Henning
Nopak Inc., a Milwaukee company that produces cylinders, valves
and steel recycling equipment, was killed Feb. 16 when he was
struck by a 2-ton piece of steel that fell from an overhead
hoist he was using to move the steel into the shop. And a
worker died in early February from severe burns suffered in a
chemical accident at the Schofield, Wis., plant of Quality
Steel Processing, which uses chemicals to powder coat
materials, strip paint and clean investment castings.
Outside of steel-related industries, a construction company
worker was fatally injured at Freeport-McMoRan Copper &
Gold Inc.'s Miami copper mine in Arizona earlier this year
while he was moving some pipe, and a maintenance technician at
Celina Aluminum Precision Technology Inc., which melts, cases
and machines aluminum in Celina, Ohio, died Feb. 21 after he
became tangled in machinery.
Apart from the loss of valuable employees due to injuries
and deaths, companies face censure, fines and lawsuits stemming
from workplace accidents, even when they're practicing safety
according to national standards.
Steel Dynamics Inc. (SDI) in January was named in a
wrongful-death lawsuit by the widow of a contractor who died in
an accident outside the company's slag processing operation in
Indiana. The woman alleged the Fort Wayne, Ind.-based
steelmaker was negligent in connection with the April 2009
death of her husband, a contractor at the Columbia City Mill
Services division of Edw. C. Levy Co. He died after being
struck by a slag-hauling vehicle on land leased by Levy Co.
adjacent to SDI's Structural and Rail division in Columbia
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA),
which conducts safety inspections and accident investigations,
has cited several steel companies and recyclers for violations
over the past few months.
Scrap recycler Yaffe Cos. recently settled with OSHA on a
penalty over a fatality at its Oklahoma yard last November when
a shell in a bundle of military scrap exploded. The settlement
agreement stated that Yaffe no longer buys ammunition scrap.
Meanwhile, the worker's family filed a civil lawsuit in
Oklahoma state court seeking to hold Yaffe liable for the
accident; the company in turn sued the Defense Department over
the man's death, claiming it sold dangerous scrap as being
ArcelorMittal USA, Chicago, was fined $12,250 by Indiana
OSHA last September for four "serious" safety violations after
it investigated the July death of a steelworker at its Indiana
Harbor East facility in East Chicago, Ind. The steelworker, who
died after being struck by a crane at the No. 4 slab yard of
the 80-inch hot-strip mill, walked in front of the crane
because the authorized walkway was blocked by a fire hydrant,
the state OSHA report said.
In Canada, Essar Steel Algoma Inc. faces five counts of
alleged safety violations and unsafe working conditions that
the Ontario Ministry of Labour said contributed to an October
2008 accident in which a worker died after being struck by a
250-pound piece of iron. If the provincial government agency
finds Essar Steel Algoma liable, the company faces a maximum
penalty of Canadian $500,000 ($485,000) on each of the five
The United Steelworkers union's director and assistant
director of safety declined to return calls seeking comment on
the organization's safety initiatives or statistics.
A spokesman in the union's Washington office said, however,
that the USW, which will host a national job safety conference
this year, operates workplace safety and training centers, has
an emergency response program for serious industrial accidents
and conducts its own investigations into accidents at
facilities where its members work. CORINNA