March 24, 2015
US Steel Corp.'s safety shortcuts lead to fatal explosion
Time and cost concerns blamed in 2 worker deaths and serious burns to another
FAIRFIELD, Ala. – Like most of us, Leo Bridges and Edward Bryant left for work one day in September 2014, probably thinking about some rest and relaxation when the shift ended. Like many, they figured their managers and employer would ensure they were safe at work. Bridges and Bryant were wrong; they were caught in a fiery explosion in the Flux Building, which U.S. Department of Labor Occupational Safety and Health Administration inspectors said occurred because U.S. Steel Corp. put workers at risk, so as not to slow production at its Fairfield facility.
The three men were opening and closing a malfunctioning valve on a furnace at the Fairfield Works when it erupted, and sent Bridges, Bryant and a third co-worker to the hospital. Bridges, 61, and Bryant, 53, died later due to their injuries. The third man was rushed to a burn trauma unit in critical condition. Fairfield Works is comprised of both steelmaking and finishing facilities. The company has headquarters in Pittsburgh and employs more than 40,000 workers.
"Management knew that attempting to operate the valve while the furnace was still running placed workers at risk, yet they allowed them to do it because they didn't want the production line down for hours," said Ramona Morris, OSHA's area director in Birmingham.
OSHA inspectors determined that the explosion was caused by opening and closing a high-pressure valve that contained oxygen and hydrated lime. The men were doing the work while the furnace was operating, as directed by the department's management.
"Management knew that attempting to operate the valve while the furnace was still running placed workers at risk, yet they allowed them to do it because they didn't want the production line down for hours," said Ramona Morris, OSHA's area director in Birmingham. "This employer chose productivity over the safety of its workers, and two people died as a result of this decision."
OSHA issued the employer a willful citation for not developing and using a procedure to control the hazardous energy to allow workers to operate the valves on the furnace while it is in operation. A willful violation is one committed with intentional, knowing or voluntary disregard for the law's requirement, or with plain indifference to worker safety and health.
Seven serious citations were issued for not developing a procedure to prevent the furnace from releasing hazardous energy while workers performed maintenance; missing exit signs; an improperly installed exit gate; and not training workers to recognize hazardous conditions with the oxygen system. A serious violation occurs when there is substantial probability that death or serious physical harm could result from a hazard about which the employer knew or should have known.
View the current citations at: https://www.osha.gov/ooc/citations/UnitedStatesSteelCorporation_996555_0320_15.pdf
U.S. Steel Corp. has been inspected 14 times by OSHA since 2009 and issued citations for amputation hazards, unsafe crane operation, violations associated with flammable liquids and other hazards. The company has 15 business days from receipt of its citations and proposed penalties to comply, request a conference with OSHA's area director, or contest the findings before the independent Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission. Proposed penalties total $107,900.
OSHA proposes that U.S. Steel Corp. be placed in the Severe Violator Enforcement Program for demonstrating indifference to its OSH Act obligations to provide a safe and healthful workplace for employees.
Bureau of Labor Statistics preliminary data from the Census of Fatal Occupational Injuries shows that fatal work injuries in Alabama accounted for 66 of the 4,405 fatal work injuries reported nationally in 2013. Additional details are available at http://www.bls.gov.
To ask questions, obtain compliance assistance, file a complaint or report workplace hospitalizations, fatalities or situations posing imminent danger to workers, the public should call OSHA's toll-free hotline at 800-321-OSHA (6742) or the agency's Birmingham Area Office at 205-731-1534.
Under the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970, employers are responsible for providing safe and healthful workplaces for their employees. OSHA's role is to ensure these conditions for America's working men and women by setting and enforcing standards, and providing training, education and assistance. For more information, visit http://www.osha.gov.
# # #
Release Number: 15-459-ATL (82)
U.S. Department of Labor news materials are accessible at http://www.dol.gov. The department's Reasonable Accommodation Resource Center converts departmental information and documents into alternative formats, which include Braille and large print. For alternative format requests, please contact the department at (202) 693-7828 (voice) or (800) 877-8339 (federal relay).