OSHA: Shortcuts by U.S. Steel Lead to Fatal Explosion

The explosion led to two workers' deaths, according to the agency's investigation.

OSHA has determined that in an effort to keep production from slowing down, U.S. Steel  Corp. put workers at risk in an explosion that led to two fatalities at its Fairfield, Ala., facility. Three men were opening and closing a malfunctioning valve on a furnace when it erupted, sending all three to a hospital. Two died due to injuries, while the third was sent to a burn trauma unit in critical condition.

OSHA determined 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, according to the agency.

"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 company 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. 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.

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