Chesterton Tribune

IOSHA fines Beta Steel $4,200 for fatal explosion in January

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The Indiana Occupational Safety and Health Administration (IOSHA) has fined Beta Steel Corporation in Portage a total of $4,200 for two “serious” violations found by investigators following a fatal accident at the plant earlier this year.

At approximately 7 p.m. Jan. 7, Michael Kies, 35, of Hammond, was killed and four other employees injured in an explosion of the plant’s electric arc furnace.

IOSHA investigators subsequently found that the five employees had discovered “water coming from the delta ring while the furnace was in the slag position” and had climbed to “the roof of the furnace to isolate and shut off the water going to the furnace when an explosion occurred, knocking the employees off of the furnace to the floor below,” according to a report issued on March 1.

Porter County Coroner Vicki Deppe ruled the cause of Kies’ death as blunt force trauma to the head.

In that same report IOSHA identified two violations: one involving a defective piece of protective clothing, the other protocol.

Specifically, a “silver jacket used by furnace employees when working with molten metal for performing various furnace assignments had a torn off sleeve and burn holes everywhere on the jacket,” the report stated.

Beta Steel also “did not establish and maintain conditions of work which were reasonably safe and healthful for employees,” when it failed to include in a protocol—developed in November 2009 following a similar incident in which four employees were injured—this “feasible and acceptable abatement method”: namely, “employees are not to go on top of the furnace until it has been made safe.”

IOSHA initially assessed a fine of $1,500 for the first violation and one of $4,500 for the second. Both violations IOSHA classified as “serious.”

IOSHA later reduced those fines by 30 percent—to $4,200—after Beta Steel agreed to send a furnace manager to IOSHA’s 30-hour general industry training by June 30, according to a safety order issued on Wednesday.

Kensey Alsman, president of Local 2038 of the International Longshoremen’s Association, characterized the incident as a “super-heated steam explosion” and told the Chesterton Tribune in January that, had the roof not been in place on the furnace at the time, the force of the explosion would have dissipated a great deal.

Four employees sustained minor injuries on Nov. 14 when a similar eruption of the furnace occurred.

As of deadline today Beta Steel had not returned a call to the Tribune.

Beta Steel is a mini-mill operation incorporating an electric arc furnace which converts scrap steel into continuous cast steel slabs. The facility also features a hot-strip rolling mill for processing those slabs into flat-rolled steel.


Posted 4/1/2010




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