Chesterton Tribune

Steelworker dies at Mittal Burns Harbor plant

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A steelworker died Wednesday in a “freak accident” at the Burns Harbor facility of Mittal Steel USA, after being pinned between two girders.

Paul Gipson, president of United Steelworkers Local 6787 identified the member as Russell Payne, 60, of Portage. Payne leaves a wife and two sons.

The accident occurred around mid-morning in the former slabbing mill shuttered by Bethlehem Steel Corporation, later converted by International Steel Group and then Mittal into a storage facility for motors, girders, crane equipment, and other materiel.

Payne and another steelworker had just finished moving two spare girders by means of an overhead crane, Gipson told the Chesterton Tribune today. Those girders—essentially I-beams, six feet in height when laid lengthwise—are typically fixed to the ceiling of the building for mounting the overhead crane rails.

Payne and his co-worker had maneuvered the two girders side-by-side on the floor of the facility and Payne was standing between them in a space which Gipson estimated to be maybe three to four feet in width. At some point, Gipson said, the co-worker began to re-position the crane, unaware that Payne had not yet left the area, when one of four dangling chained hooks attached to an O-ring on the crane boom caught a girder and pulled it with sufficient force to tilt it. That girder fell against the other girder and “pinched” Payne’s head between the two.

“He died instantly,” Gipson said. “He never felt anything.”

Gipson was unable immediately to estimate the weight of a girder. He did describe the pair of them as “mammoth,” although the force of the one’s falling against the other was not enough actually to topple the second one.

Gipson was informed of the incident while waiting for Hillary Clinton to speak at the Duneland Falls Banquet Center and immediately dispatched a team of investigators to the scene. A joint union/management report on the accident has not been completed, but investigators have so far determined that the crane did not malfunction and that the lighting of the facility was adequate. “It was a freak accident,” Gipson said. “Totally a freak accident. Both men were qualified craftsmen.”

IOSHA was on the scene as well.

A total of 27 people have died at the mill in its 42-year history, Gipson said. Most recently, in July 2006, Kevin Sullivan, 50, of LaPorte, was crushed to death at No. 1 Coke Battery when he was caught between the battery and a machine which opens its doors. “A steel mill is a terrible place to die,” Gipson said.

Payne was a 33-year veteran of the mill and was eligible for retirement. A benefit is being planned for his family.



Posted 5/1/2008