Union Claims Plague of Injuries Continues At Rocky MountainSteel

A rash of injuries and deaths continues to plague Rocky Mountain\r\nSteel Mills, Pueblo, Colo., despite the presence of OSHA investigators at the plant, according to the United Steelworkers of America.

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A rash of injuries and deaths continues to plague Rocky Mountain Steel Mills, according to the United Steelworkers of America (USWA).

The union claims two more steel workers have been injured in recent weeks, despite the presence at the mill of a team of OSHA inspectors conducting a comprehensive "wall-to-wall" safety audit at the Pueblo subsidiary of Oregon Steel Mills Inc.

The "wall-to-wall" inspection began in February, six days after the mill recorded its second workplace fatality in less than 10 months.

USWA said two more injuries have occurred since the inspection began.

In mid-April, a ladle used to pour hot steel dropped due to a crane malfunction, sending thousands of tons of molten steel into the mill, injuring several workers, according to USWA.

In late-April USWA said another worker was hospitalized with injuries to his shoulder and hip due to scalding.

"Even the presence in the mill of several OSHA compliance officers has failed to stop the carnage of what we''ve come to call ''the Killing Mil,''" said Ernie Hernandez, president of USWA Local 2102, which represents production and maintenance workers at Rocky Mountain Steel. "Steelmaking is a dangerous business, but since Oregon Steel took over the mill, the safety record has been shocking. Men and women don''t have to die and be maimed to produce steel."

In July 1999, Oregon Steel''s Rocky Mountain Steel Mills subsidiary received the second-largest OSHA fine in Colorado history -- $400,000 -- for violations of health and safety at the Pueblo mill.

Since then, the company has been fined for further violations following the death of one worker and the double amputation of a second worker''s arm.

Since 1997, USWA has been holding to its position that fatal and maiming injuries have increased at the Pueblo mill since the company replaced its veteran workforce with inexperienced substitutes during a contract dispute.

"These injuries and accidents are the result of the company treating safety as an afterthought," said Hernandez.

USWA said it called upon the company to release details of the two most recent injuries, however, that information has not been released.

"The company is trying to keep a lid on these two latest health and safety problems. They don''t want workers to know what''s happening to their coworkers. And they certainly don''t want their customers or the community to know the human cost of producing steel at the mill in Pueblo," said John Perquin, USWA assistant director for health, safety and the environment.

Oregon Steel, which makes a number of steel products, including rail for passenger, freight and commuter lines, a wide variety of pipe products, plate, rod and bar, is also the target of a nationwide boycott by the AFL-CIO.

Members of USWA Locals 2102 and 3267 went on strike against Oregon Steel''s CF&I Steel subsidiary on Oct. 3, 1997.

When they ended their strike three months later, management refused to reinstate a majority of steelworkers to their jobs.

by Virginia Sutcliffe

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