A veteran laborer for Bethlehem Steel Corp. died yesterday from injuries he suffered in a freak accident Tuesday at the Sparrows Point mill complex -- the fourth fatality there in less than 12 months.
Edward Sykes, a 28-year employee, was struck in the back by a heavy chunk of metal that unexpectedly snapped off a rotating piece of equipment in the tin mill, where sheets of cold steel are reduced in thickness under extreme pressure, company and union officials said.
Mr. Sykes, who was 53 and resided in the Irvington section of Southwest Baltimore, was the second Bethlehem worker killed at Sparrows Point in recent weeks. A carpenter, 38-year-old Robert Watson Jr., was fatally burned June 22 when he fell into a tank holding a heated sulfuric acid solution.
Mr. Sykes was one of about a dozen employees around machinery known as the "No. 3 double reducing mill," where electricians were trying to identify the source of a malfunction, according to Leroy R. McClelland Sr., an official in United Steelworkers of America Local 2609.
The metal chunk that hit Mr. Sykes about 10 a.m. Tuesday was part of a mandrel -- a device designed to hold in place a rotating coil of sheet metal as it is fed through the machine that reduces the steel to a thickness needed for such products as cans, according to Mr. McClelland.
Controls that slow down the machinery were not working properly, and electricians in a cellar area were testing circuits as workers on the main floor were trying out the equipment. There was no steel coil around the spinning mandrel when one of four "leaves" that hold a coil in place snapped into two pieces that were hurled through the building.
One piece whizzed between Mr. Sykes and another worker, while the other -- weighing 150 to 200 pounds -- caromed off the rail of a crane about 50 feet above the floor and dropped, hitting Mr. Sykes on the back and pushing him to the floor as he tried to get out of the way, Mr. McClelland said.
"It's the freakest of freaks," Mr. McClelland said, adding that company and union safety committees -- along with the Maryland Occupational Safety and Health agency -- were trying to determine the precise cause of the accident. "We have other mills with similar equipment. You want to take a situation like this and make sure it doesn't repeat itself anywhere in the plant, or elsewhere," he said.
Mr. Sykes, who Mr. McClelland said was conscious after the accident, died at 10:30 yesterday morning at the Maryland Shock Trauma Center.
The flag over the Dundalk Avenue union hall of Local 2609 was lowered to half staff, Mr. McClelland said.
Members of Locals 2609 and 2610 had just finished collecting about $9,000 to establish a trust fund for the children of the carpenter killed last month, said Mr. McClelland, a mill tractor operator and secretary of Local 2609's grievance committee.
There have been 13 deaths at the steel plant since 1982. In October, an employee was fatally crushed between a tractor and a stationary roll of steel, and last August an employee died in a mishap involving a high-speed lathe.