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US steel mill blast injures eight, company previously cited for explosion risks

08 June 2021

An explosion at a steel mill in Colorado, US injured eight people on May 29. The incident, which occurred at the EVRAZ Rocky Mountain Steel plant in Pueblo, is said to have been a furnace explosion. The steel mill has previously been cited by the US Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) for putting employees at risk of an explosion.

Image: Pueblo Fire Department
Image: Pueblo Fire Department

Three of the injured employees are reported to have been in critical conditions and were rushed to hospital with respiratory issues and burns. The Vice President of Operations at the EVRAZ Pueblo mill, Dave Light, told reporters the day after the incident that three employees remained in hospital. Light added that an initial inspection suggested water had got into a furnace, causing a build-up of pressure and an explosion.

The blast was first reported at around 18:00 local time with firefighters from the Pueblo Fire Department attending the scene shortly after. An investigation as been opened by local authorities with the plant expected to be closed for some time.

According to local news channel, News 5, the EVRAZ Pueblo mill has previously been cited by OSHA for placing employees at risk of an explosion and other hazards. The mill was cited in 2017 for serious safety violations. Amongst the issues at the plant, OSHA said that employees were exposed to explosion hazards around the facility’s vacuum tank de-gasser unit (VTD).

The May 29 explosion was not related to the previous citations with the VTD being located in a different part of the mill.

In its 2017 report on the EVRAZ Pueblo mill, OSHA said: “On or about November 30, 2016 and at times prior, employees were exposed to explosion and struck by hazards in that maintenance, inspection and testing procedures were not employed to ensure that the flow switch interlock device stopped VTD operations when water flow was below safe operating parameters.”

The report also said certain fail-safes were not properly in place to prevent an explosion or other hazards. “The Programmable Logic Controller (PLC) was also programmed with a code that prevented: 1) automatic execution of the shutdown procedure, and 2) the operator station from displaying the flow switch status,” the citation said.

OSHA said the violations resulted in a steam explosion. EVRAZ paid an $8,500 settlement in March 2017 as a result.

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