Final Board Report on Fatal Bethlehem Steel Fire Finds Inadequate Supervision of Hazardous Maintenance Work

January 16, 2002

MERRILLVILLE, INDIANA, JANUARY 16, 2002 -- The U.S. Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board today released the results of its investigation into the fatal incident that occurred on February 2, 2001, at the Bethlehem Steel Burns Harbor Mill in Chesterton, Indiana. The Board identified several causes of the incident, including inadequate management systems for the supervision, planning and execution of maintenance work.

One Bethlehem employee and one contactor were killed and four Bethlehem employees were injured, one seriously, when flammable liquid from an open pipe was released and ignited.

The causes of the incident identified by the Board included:

Management systems for the supervision, planning and execution of maintenance work were inadequate. Company requirements for pipe isolation and purging were not followed, which would have ensured that the pipe did not contain any flammable liquids.

The Burns Harbor facility did not have a program to identify and address hazards that might be created by decommissioning and demolition work. The series of events that led to the February 2, 2001, incident began in 1992. At that time, the furnace fueled by the pipe was shut down without considering the risks of leaving in place a vertical piping leg where liquids could accumulate. The problems were compounded when demolition of the furnace began in 2000, creating hazards that impeded the ability of the workers to escape in case of emergency. Board Member Dr. Gerald V. Poje said, "The principal lesson from this incident is that companies must consider the risks and carefully plan work that may involve hazardous materials. In our view, these deaths and injuries could have been prevented if the mill had an effective program for managing hazardous maintenance work. Good safety practice requires a thorough analysis and control of hazards, not only during plant design but also in the course of maintenance and decommissioning activities."

The Board issued ten recommendations to prevent this kind of incident in the future. Six were directed to the Burns Harbor mill and three to the Bethlehem Steel Corporation. In addition, the Board requested that several labor and trade groups communicate the findings of the report to their members.

The CSB is an independent federal agency whose mission is to ensure the safety of workers and the public by preventing chemical incidents. The Board does this by thoroughly investigating accidents, determining the causes, and making the results public. The CSB is a scientific investigative organization and has no enforcement powers. The Board's recommendations, while voluntary, are closely monitored and tracked to completion.

For further information, contact Daniel Horowitz (202) 261-7613

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