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Steel mills taking coronavirus precautions like banning visitors and employee training
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Steel mills taking coronavirus precautions like banning visitors and employee training

Steel mills taking coronavirus precautions

ArcelorMittal's offices at Indiana Harbor in East Chicago. 

Northwest Indiana's largest steelmakers continue to operate their mills but are taking added precautions to protect workers from the lethal coronavirus that's infected at least 197,000 people across the globe.

U.S. Steel and ArcelorMittal have taken steps like banning visitors, employee training and meetings with vendors for the time being.

"ArcelorMittal is committed to taking all necessary precautions to protect the health and well-being of our employees, contractors, vendors and customers to ensure the continuity and sustainability of our business and communities," ArcelorMittal spokesman William Steers said. "While all ArcelorMittal USA plants and offices will remain open, our most important asset is our people, and in order to continue to live our health and safety values, we are taking measures to keep our families, operations, customers, and visitors safe."

ArcelorMittal is no longer hosting visitors at its plants, has postponed or cancelled employee training, and has banned business air travel through April 15. Employs have been instructed to avoid close contact with the sick, to wash their hands often with soap and water, and to not touch their faces, noses and eyes.

The Luxembourg-based steelmaker, which has local operations in East Chicago, Burns Harbor, Gary, Riverdale and New Carlisle, is encouraging social distancing and instructing employees to immediately contact their manager if they show any COVID-19 symptoms, such as fever, cough or shortness of breath, whether at home or at work. Managers have the authority to send employees home if exhibiting symptoms.

Anyone who tests positive for coronavirus has been instructed not to report for work and may be eligible for benefits. Some salaried employees also are being allowed to work from home. Workers were told to maximize the use of conference calls and Skype, and to try to keep six feet away from each other.

"Employees that have the ability to perform their jobs remotely are allowed to work from home where the school district in an employee's work location or their residential school district closes due to COVID-19," Steers said. "These employees are permitted to work from home for the duration of the closure as long as they have the capability to do so."

Vendors can only come to ArcelorMittal USA mills if approved by the plant manager, and all sales activities and meetings have been called off. Vendors have been notified that their employees must be free from any signs of respiratory illness before they enter any steel mills.

U.S. Steel also has taken several measures to minimize risks to its workforce, "including cancellation of all non-essential business travel, limiting outside visitors to our facilities, encouraging employees to avoid large gatherings and implementing the use of telephonic or video conferences to conduct business," spokeswoman Meaghan Cox said.

"We continue to monitor the situation and communicate that information regularly throughout our organization, including preventative tips. Contingency planning within our organization remains ongoing and we will activate these plans as circumstances warrant," Cox said. "We have taken several measures to reduce risks to our workforce, including cancellation of all non-essential business travel, limiting outside visitors to our facilities, encouraging employees to avoid large gatherings and implementing the use of telephonic or video conferences to conduct business.

The steelmaker does not at this point expect a disruption in production.

"At present, U. S. Steel is not experiencing issues in the United States with essential materials. As a routine procedure, we have been in contact and tracking all raw materials since the outbreak," Cox said. "While we see no current signs of delivery issues, we have contingency plans in place. The coronavirus does, however, highlight general supply chain vulnerabilities, which is a primary reason why we believe a strong domestic steel industry is needed. Products that are made and used domestically are more sustainable since they avoid national security risks, supply disruptions and the environmental cost of transoceanic shipment."

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Business Reporter

Joseph S. Pete is a Lisagor Award-winning business reporter who covers steel, industry, unions, the ports, retail, banking and more. The Indiana University grad has been with The Times since 2013 and blogs about craft beer, culture and the military.

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