OSHA has issued one “willful violation” citation and seven serious violations to U.S. Steel regarding an accident that took place at its Fairfield, AL plant on Sept. 21.
According to the Pittsburgh Business Times, concerns over productivity and efficiency allegedly took precedence over safety protocol at the plant, ultimately costing two workers their lives and seriously burning a third.
The three employees had been working on a furnace’s malfunctioning valve on Sept. 21, 2014, when it erupted. Two of the workers died of their injuries at the hospital. Following the incident, OSHA investigators determined the incident resulted from the workers opening and closing the furnace’s high-pressure valve, which contained oxygen and hydrated lime, while it was operating.
Despite the fact that opening and closing a furnace valve during operation is known to be dangerous, the manufacturing site’s managers directed their workers to do so regardless — likely in an effort to get more work done in less time,Safety.BLR.com reports. Other common causes of workplace injury and fatality include forklift-related accidents, which make up one in four workplace accidents.
“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,” OSHA area director Ramona Morris explained. “This employer chose productivity over the safety of its workers, and two people died as a result of this decision.”
Due to the intentional, voluntary nature of the employer’s actions in relation to worker health and safety, OSHA issued a willful citation for failing to develop and use a procedure that would allow personnel to operate furnace valves while the plant was operating and control hazardous energy.
When combined with the seven serious citations, U.S. Steel’s proposed penalties from OSHA total $108,000. As this isn’t the first time U.S. Steel has been cited by OSHA, the government agency has proposed that the company be placed under its Severe Violator Enforcement Program (SVEP).