Producing steel is a dangerous task at the best of times. When workers are faced with intense heat during ten months of the year problems become even greater. Despite this fact the safety performance at the ArcelorMittal LaPlace Steel Plant in New Orleans, USA is steadily improving, as discovered by a visiting group of experts from the ArcelorMittal Joint Global Health and Safety Committee.
USA: Experts from the European Metalworkers' Federation (EMF), United Steelworkers (USW) and International Metalworkers Federation (IMF) found out first hand just how unbearable temperatures and humidity can be during a two day plant visit. The group inspected the site of a fatality in February 2011 which occurred as a result of an explosion in the melt shop. The fatality happened after 12 months without a lost time injury and deeply shocked the workforce.
The LaPlace plant was built in 1979 and has had a number of owners until ArcelorMittal bought it in 2008. It has two electric Arc furnaces and produces 580,000 tons of steel with 423 employees and 131 sub- contractors. The United Steelworkers have a collective agreement for 280 workers. Around 150 are members of the union. Both the LaPlace plant and the previously visited plant in Vinton are unique in that most of the mini-mills in the United States are unorganized.
The local union President Kinley Porter who is also Safety coordinator of Local 9121 explained that prior to being taken over by ArcelorMittal there hadn't been a day let alone a couple of months without an accident at the plant. But he also wants to see a stronger commitment to a joint approach which includes the involvement of more hourly employees and more resources for the union.
One frustration that was raised by a worker during a visit to the rolling mill was an unsafe practice that he had raised with his supervisor a number of times but that had failed to be addressed. He was advised to use a stop work card that had been issued to all employees next time he had to perform the task, which he subsequently did, stopping production. This led to a number of improvements being made and a subsequent reduction in the number of hazards faced by workers.
Tony Murphy of the European Metalworkers' Federation stated: "I'm pleased to see that this worker felt empowered to use his card as a result of our visit. I hope that more workers follow his example and do the right thing".
As a result of the visit and subsequent feedback a number of areas for improvement were identified. These included training of union and management representatives on corporate standards, joint safety audits, and standardization of personal protective equipment. Electrical safety and training must also be improved. A follow-up visit to check progress may be undertaken in the future.