By KEVIN NEVERS
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
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.