Colorado Worker Dies in Mill Accident

A mobile equipment operator died in a vehicular accident at Rocky Moutain Steel Mill, Pueblo, Colo., last week while transporting a load of glowing steel billets on one of the plant's roadways.

Mobile equipment operator, Thomas E. Bernal, 42, died in a vehicular accident at Rocky Mountain Steel Mills (RMSM), Pueblo, Colo., on Wednesday.

Bernal was transporting a load of glowing steel billets on one of the plant's roadways when the accident occurred.

The load shifted and one of the billets, still hot from the caster, rolled forward toward the operator.

He was not struck by the billet but the heat nevertheless was deadly in close proximity. Bernal died at the scene.

It was the first fatality this year at the Colorado-based subsidiary of Oregon Steel Mills.

RMSM reported that Bernal was alone in the vehicle at the time of the accident ad the cause is still under investigation.

"Tom was a valued employee and we are greatly saddened by his death. We extend our deepest sympathies to his family," said Dave Smith, vice president and general manager of RMSM.

As customary in all accidents, OSHA has been contacted and the company said it is cooperating with OSHA's investigation.

According to The Pueblo Chieftain, initial reports of fire and smoke coming out of buildings at the mill apparently were due to steam coming from the load of billets that firefighters sprayed with water.

Bernal was employed at the company from 1977 to 1994, when he left to take other employment, and later rejoined RMSM in November of 1997.

RMSM noted that he was an experienced equipment operator.

While the steel plant has been the scene of serious accidents and occasional fatalities for many years, accident now can be expected to bring new charges of unsafe working conditions, reported The Chieftain.

Oregon Steel, which owns RMSM, has been involved in a dispute with the United Steelworkers since 1997.

The union has been using claims of unsafe working conditions -- because of inexperienced replacement workers -- to support its call for a boycott of RMSM products.

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