Changes Stem from Steel Mill Accident

Monday, January 30, 2012 @ 02:01 PM gHale

In light of an accident that went severely wrong at the ArcelorMittal Burns Harbor steel mill, the company underwent changes to prevent similar tragedies.

It all started when Gabe Rocha was investigating a noise in the basic oxygen furnace area Oct. 26 when a pressure buildup caused a flexible steam hose to burst, said Paul Gipson, president of United Steelworkers Local 6787.

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High-pressure steam and hot water sprayed Rocha, and he suffered third-degree burns on more than half of his body. Rocha, a 53-year-old supervisor in Burns Harbor’s steelmaking operations, died Nov. 15 at Loyola University Medical Center in Maywood, IL.

Corrective actions the company took include redesigning the piping system and adding control systems and interlocks to prevent hazardous steam buildups, said Gipson and company spokeswoman Mary Beth Holdford. The company and union also walked through the complex to ensure they did not use product in similar applications.

The company “has kept its workforce informed of all interim and permanent preventative measures in place,” Holdford said in a statement.

“The problem is corrected, but unfortunately a guy lost his life,” Gipson said.

With the lower pressure limits on the flex hose, Gipson said they should not have used the product in its previous application. Also, the stop valve was out of date and didn’t release the steam before there was a significant pressure buildup.

“The ArcelorMittal Burns Harbor family expresses our deepest sympathy to the family and friends of Gabe Rocha for their loss,” Holdford said in a statement. “The health and safety of our employees remains our No. 1 priority.”

The Indiana Occupational Safety and Health Administration (IOSHA) automatically investigates fatal workplace accidents, but the agency wasn’t involved directly in this case because the initial accident didn’t result in Rocha’s death, said Robert Dittmer, spokesman for the Indiana Department of Labor.

However, Dittmer said IOSHA investigators reviewed the report from the union and company and found it to be satisfactory in its scope.

“Nothing in the joint committee’s report suggests grounds for citation in a safety order,” Dittmer said. “That in no way minimizes the fact that Mr. Rocha died as a result of a terrible accident.”

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