Carroll Co. firm cited for violations in death U.S. mines agency finds 'unwarrantable failure' at Lehigh Portland Cement

August 08, 1998|By Mike Farabaugh | Mike Farabaugh,SUN STAFF

The U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration has issued three citations against Lehigh Portland Cement Co., alleging officials at the Carroll County plant were negligent in failing to prevent a fatal accident last month.

Lehigh employee Ronald L. Stewart, 41, of Union Bridge was killed when a freight train backed into a street-sweeping machine he was operating inside a loading tunnel at the Union Bridge plant July 1, state police said. Stewart had worked at the plant for about seven years.

The company was cited for not having warning devices to alert employees that trains were moving inside the tunnel and for not establishing rules to warn workers of the direction in which trains were moving, James Petrie, northeast district manager for the mine administration, said from his office in Pittsburgh.

Lehigh's failure to provide warning devices and ensure the safe movement of trains on the mine site "constitutes more than ordinary negligence and is an unwarrantable failure to comply with a mandatory safety standard," according to the citations.

The degree of negligence was rated "high," one level below "reckless disregard," Petrie said.

The agency also found that the volume of warning signals on the train was insufficient to be heard above extraneous noise, but it gave that citation a "moderate" rating for negligence.

The company could be fined $55 to $55,000 for each citation. No total of fines has been assessed, but these citations are classified as "significant and substantial, so typically they could be in the thousands of dollars," Petrie said.

He said 60 fatalities occurred nationwide in mining accidents last year, but none involved trains.

"This accident was somewhat unusual," Petrie said. "Rail cars typically are slow moving at mining sites."

He said it would be unfair to look at the number of safety violations at any company and judge whether it is safety-conscious.

"Lehigh may have a number of violations, but I would have to do a computer analysis to fairly say whether those violations are a bit high," he said. "For its size, this is really not a bad company."

The company has about 200 employees at Union Bridge.

David Roush, plant manager at the Union Bridge site, said yesterday that company officials would request a conference with Petrie, the first step in an appeal process.

Roush said the company did not agree with all the allegations in the citations.

Strobe lights are being installed to warn workers of train movement, and a member of the train crew must walk to the end of the rail cars to see that the area is clear before a train moves, Roush said.

"We have a rule that no one is to enter the area when rail cars are active, but we're taking the extra precaution by having a crew member check before the rail cars move," he said.

Roush said he would wait until after the conference with Petrie before deciding what the next step in the appeal process would be.

If Lehigh wishes to continue the appeal process beyond that, Petrie said, the investigative reports and citations would be sent the mine administration's office of assessment in Arlington, Va., for review.

If the fines were upheld, he said, the company could seek a hearing before an administrative law judge.

Pub Date: 8/08/98

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