Chesterton Tribune

Changes made at ArcelorMittal Burns Harbor plant in wake of worker's death last year

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Changes have been made to the BOF facility at ArcelorMittal’s Burns Harbor plant, after the death late last year of a salaried employee badly burned when a high-pressure steam hose ruptured.

Gabe Rocha, 53, died on Nov. 15 at Loyola University Medical Center in Maywood, Ill., two weeks after the hose at the No. 1 basic oxygen furnace—and the hose’s valve—burst and sprayed Rocha with steam over 50 to 60 percent of his body.

The hose in question served the vessel hood system, which is designed to use water to keep the BOF cool.

Paul Gipson, president of United Steelworkers Local 6787, told the Chesterton Tribune today that the hose in question—a flex steel model only two years old—had been installed at the suggestion of a vendor to replace an older pipe system. Those older pipes would move with the tilting of the BOF vessels themselves, Gipson said, and the stress of the movement made frequent repairs and replacement necessary.

The idea of the steel flex hose was to reduce the need for maintenance.

But, Gipson said, when the new flex hose was installed, an old pop-off relief valve “which went back to the Bethlehem Steel days”—making it more than 10 years old—was retained, and that valve failed in the accident.

Now the flex hose itself has been replaced with a heavier gauge steel pipe rated in excess of 800 PSI and a new relief valve has been installed, Gipson said.

In addition, “barriers have been put over the pipes” for further protection.

The problem, Gipson noted, is that however good the idea might have been to replace the old pipe system with the flex hose, “no one ever really looked at the big picture, whether the pop-off relief valve was capable of the operation. Now we know it wasn’t.”

Gipson added that union and management safety coordinators have “gone through the plant” together to ensure that nothing like the Oct. 29 accident will occur again. “Everything’s fine in the plant and the way it should be,” he said.