The Indiana Department of Labor has fined KM Plant Services $7,000 after the death of contractor Frank Freer during a routine cleaning at the Q-BOP exhaust stack at the Gary Works steel mill in April.
The state found a serious safety violation while investigating the April 8 death of Freer, a 46-year-old resident of Pontiac, Illinois, who worked as a hydroblaster for the industrial cleaning services contractor.
"An inspection of your employer's work site has revealed conditions which we believe do not comply with the provisions of the Occupational Safety and Health Act," Indiana Occupational Health and Safety Administration Industrial Compliance Director Julie Alexander wrote in a letter to the company.
State investigators found the company did not keep the workspace where Freer died free of hazards, such as sharp protruding objects, corrosion, leaks or spills.
"Employees were exposed to a fall when the floor inside the stack was not examined for hazards prior to employees having to enter the space to set up cables for performing hydroblasting inside the vessel," the Occupational Safety and Health Administration said in its safety order.
No other safety violations were found during the inspection, which is required after any fatal workplace accident.
KM Plant Services, a Houston-based industrial cleaning services contractor with a local office in Highland, serves the heavy industry along the Calumet Region's lakeshore. It conducted its own investigation into the incident and expressed condolences for the loss of its longtime employee after the accident. The company did not immediately respond to requests for comment about the safety violation and fine.
The company, which cleans steel mills, oil refineries and other industrial sites across the country, reported to the state that it laid off 67 workers in Highland a few weeks after the fatal incident "due to the sudden loss of a major client." Neither KM Plant Services nor U.S. Steel would confirm the cleaning contractor is no longer working at Gary Works.
KM Plant Services has 15 days to file an appeal with the state of Indiana.
Steelworkers average 29.8 deaths a year per 100,000 workers across the country, according to the U.S. Occupational Health and Safety Administration. Statistically, steelworker remains one of the most dangerous jobs in the nation.
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