Jan. 20 of last year, Joseph Nelson, 57, fell 15 feet to his death during steel-making operations at Bethlehem Steel Corp.'s Sparrows Point plant.
The Maryland Occupational Safety and Health agency fined the company $5,000, saying that the poor condition of a floor may have contributed to the accident.
For several years, the Sparrows Point plant has been a frequent target of MOSH inspectors. Few other workplaces have been investigated so often in the wake of fatalities and other serious accidents.
In February 1990, less than a month after Nelson's death, Michael Kelly, 36, died of carbon monoxide poisoning while making repairs in the blast furnace area of the huge plant in southeastern Baltimore County.
Not a Beth employee, Kelly was a contract worker from the outside. His employer, Mobile Dredging & Plumbing, was fined $600 by MOSH for having no training program, according to the agency's case files.
In May, three months after Kelly's death, Lindsay Townsend, 64, a repair worker for Sanger Construction of Washington, Pa., was killed and eight co-workers injured at Sparrows Point when a leaking gas line exploded.
MOSH fined Sanger Construction $690 for failing to test for the presence of natural gas in the pipe line.
Then, last Aug. 17, a fourth man was killed at Sparrows Point. He was a Beth employee, like Nelson.
Raymond Pritts, 53, was electrocuted when he went into the lunchroom to cool off. He sat down, and his foot touched the air conditioner. His right hand touched a toaster that was on the top, according to the MOSH case file.
The toaster was not grounded and had faulty wiring, and because Pritts also was touching the air conditioner he was electrocuted, MOSH says.
Beth Steel had been cited previously for endangering workers with unsafe appliances, according to MOSH. The company was fined $5,000 in the death of Pritts, but is contesting the case.
MA From 1982 through 1990, the plant had 26 major accidents that
killed 10 of its workers, hospitalized 25 and caused lesser injuries to 12 workers. The figures do not include the deaths of Kelly and Townsend, or the injuries to the other repair workers from the outside.
The worst years for fatalities were 1984, with three deaths among Beth employees, and 1990, with two.
MOSH recorded 213 safety violations at Sparrows Point during the nine-year period, including eight "willful" violations and 35 "repeat" violations. MOSH inspectors made about 150 visits and, during the last four years, averaged 26 inspections a year.
Craig Lowry, chief of enforcement for MOSH, points out that the high number of inspections and citations at Sparrows Point stems in part from the active involvement of the plant's labor unions in pressing for safer conditions. Overall, more than half the inspections resulted from worker complaints.
Penalties totaled $192,820 for the 1982-1990 period, ranging from $430 in 1985 to $74,020 in 1990, according to MOSH records.
Ted Baldwin, spokesman for the plant, says, "We have never let safety slide. It's part of our day-to-day routine."
George Bourne, a union safety representative at Sparrows Point, disagrees. He says that cost-cutting measures over the years have had an adverse effect. "When they started the austerity program, safety was one of the first things that went."
The union contends that dangerous machinery, such as a caster that emitted toxic smoke, wasn't repaired or replaced, and Bourne says that safety training was reduced.
Moreover, cost-cutting resulted in many layoffs, he says, and some of the remaining workers had to work long shifts, jeopardizing their health. "You take a man 55 years old, doubling up on overtime, and you're going to have unsafe conditions," Bourne says.