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Evraz Steel Mill repeatedly warned by OSHA years before violent explosion

PUEBLO, Colo. (KRDO) -- Before eight employees were wounded in an explosion at the Evraz Steel Mill in Pueblo, 13 Investigates found that the Occupational Safety and Health Administration had repeatedly warned the mill about numerous safety violations, including a steam explosion about five years ago.

A spokesperson for Evraz said the investigation into what led up to Saturday's explosion is ongoing. Three of the workers injured on Saturday are in critical condition but none of the injuries appear to be life-threatening at this time, according to a company spokesperson. Evraz tells 13 Investigates its primary focus is currently on the impacted workers and employees.

Federal documents reveal OSHA inspectors have cited Evraz Steel Mill at least 19 times over the last decade for failing to uphold workplace safety requirements. Among the violations, Evraz was cited by OSHA in March 2017 for placing employees at risk of an explosion.

"Employees were exposed to explosion and struck-by hazards," federal inspectors wrote in the 2017 report.

OSHA says the facility didn't maintain or inspect a vacuum tank de-gasser unit to ensure that a flow switch stopped VTD operations when water flow was below safe operating parameters. OSHA reported that a logic controller was programmed with a code that prevented the automatic execution of the shutdown procedure if water flow was below safe operating parameters, and the operator station didn't indicate the flow switch status. At one point, an operator began a heat cycle during an unreported low-flow condition, and that ultimately resulted in a steam explosion.

"The employer did not furnish employment and a place of employment which were free from recognized hazards that were causing or likely to cause death or serious physical harm to employees," the report added.

In July 2016, OSHA ordered Evraz to pay $103,820 for 10 serious safety violations at its Pueblo steel mill, along with one repeat violation.

The serious violations OSHA found in 2016 were:

  • Provide standard guardrails on open-sided floors and platforms 4 feet or more above a lower level.
  • Keep portable fire extinguishers in their designated location when not in use.
  • Provide bumper stops to stop rail cars from potentially rolling in a crosswalk or vehicular traffic.
  • Fasten fixed ladders securely on overhead cranes.
  • Ensure to fasten guards on overhead cranes' moving equipment securely in their designed place.
  • Properly inspect the operation of overhead cranes.
  • Inspect overhead cranes periodically.
  • Ensure a properly sized safety latch on a link chain nest-hook.
  • Clearly mark the functions on the pendent controller used to operate overhead cranes.
  • Prohibit use of overhead cranes for side pulls.
  • Put guards on sprocket wheels and chains.

"Evraz needs involve their workers in identifying and correcting hazardous conditions to ensure more effective safety and health management systems," OSHA's Area Director David Nelson said in 2016. "Evraz needs to fix these hazards before someone is injured or worse."

In March 2011, OSHA ordered Evraz to pay $49,900 for one repeat violation, five serious violations, and two other violations following a safety inspection of Evraz's "seamless tube mill."

OSHA inspectors said the repeat violation cited in 2011 was related to "employee exposure to amputation hazards from rotating machine parts" and the steel mill was cited for a similar hazard in July 2009. The 2011 serious violations included failing to properly store flammable materials and protect workers from being exposed to electrical hazards, according to a press release.

"Evraz failed to provide its employees with a safe and healthful workplace," said then-OSHA area office director John Healy. "The hazards uncovered during this investigation are well recognized in the industry."

All of the previous OSHA workplace safety violations aren't related to Saturday's explosion, an Evraz spokesperson told 13 Investigates.

The spokesperson added that all of the safety issues were rectified at the time the citations were issued, but OSHA did note several repeat violations in two reports.

OSHA is currently investigating Saturday's explosion. Ervaz said a command center has been set up on-site while investigators determine the precise cause of the explosion, assess the damage, and create a timeline for repairs to the mill.

"The safety of our employees is our highest priority. We continually strive to provide the safest possible workplace for employees," an Evraz spokesperson said.

If you have a lead or story you want our team to investigate, email us at 13Investigates@krdo.com.

Investigations / Local News / Pueblo / Video

Chelsea Brentzel

Chelsea is an investigative reporter for KRDO NewsChannel 13. Learn more about Chelsea here.

Comments

1 Comment

  1. This is a telling tale that OSHA is often useless. Had they punished Evraz harsh enough they would have complied with OSHA’s demands and this accident probably would have been avoided.

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