A widow pressed her fingers against the name of her husband on a cold marble wall as bagpipe music wailed in a dirge for fallen steelworkers, before she laid down a single rose atop a wreath by a sign that read “Our goal: never add another name.”

United Steelworkers Local 1010 mourned the loss of 389 steelworkers on the job at the steel mill in Indiana Harbor East now owned by ArcelorMittal and formerly owned by Inland Steel at its seventh annual Workers Memorial Day Thursday. Jason Ham was the last steelworker to die there in 2010.

It’s been a record 66 months since the last fatality, and the previous record had been 45 months.

“Thanks to a lot of efforts we do a whole lot better than we used to,” said John Gelon, chairman of the Local 1010 Safety Committee.

ArcelorMittal and the union have adopted a number of safety procedures, including pre-shift safety meetings, reporting near misses, and the new “Warn Me” initiative where workers are encouraged to warn colleagues when they see them doing anything unsafe and to wear Warn Me stickers on their hardhats as a reminder.

Safety must remain on the top of the agenda because of the union members who lost their lives unnecessarily, USW District 7 Assistant Director Rick Bucher said.

“We fight and renew our effort to have a safer workplace,” he said. “We’re here to pay respect to those who died when they went to make a living for their families, their children, and in a lot of cases their grandchildren. I couldn’t imagine that knock on the door telling me my husband, daughter or son had died. It would be awful. That’s why we’re here today to make the workplace safer. We’ve got to mourn for the dead and fight for the living.”

A total of 27 ArcelorMittal employees worldwide died last year, or four more than in the previous year, ArcelorMittal Indiana Harbor General Manager Wendell Carter said. He encouraged steelworkers to know the safety rules, follow the rules and watch for unseen hazards on the shop floors.

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“Every death affects all,” he said. “We failed a brother or mother or father or friend.”

ArcelorMittal USW Manager, Health and Safety Bill Emery said safety performance has recently slipped at Indiana Harbor, likely because of distractions like idled units, the company’s economic issues and the lack of a contract until Wednesday.

“There’s been declining performance,” he said. “It’s a disturbing trend. Safety is not a word or a thought or a chore. It’s a way of life.”

Workplace safety is something steelworkers have fought for over the span of generations, said Mark Lopez, Congressman Pete Visclosky’s chief of staff.

“No one is this room is a statistic,” he said. “No one lost their life as a statistic. They’re a loved one.”

Jerry Lewandowski, vice chairman of the Local 1011 Safety Committee, said the goal should be zero recordable injuries because any injury sends the message they’re okay.

“Our brothers and sisters on that wall didn’t get a chance for a do-over,” he said.


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.