Workers escaped injury this week when a “small explosion” rocked a coating facility at North America’s largest steel mill.
The incident occurred during the lighting of a steel slab reheat furnace in the west coating facility at ArcelorMittal’s Indiana Harbor plant, said a company spokesperson. She described the incident as a “small explosion.”
|Now the largest steel mill in North America, ArcelorMittal's Indiana Harbor Works began in 1901 as the East Works of the Inland Steel Corp.|
The blast damaged the furnace, which had been undergoing a planned maintenance outage, but no fire was reported, the spokesperson said.
The company’s call to the local fire department was canceled when the plant’s emergency services team responded “in accordance to protocol,” the spokesperson said. “The area has been cleared, and energy sources have been shut down.”
The spokesperson added: “There is no immediate impact on customers. All other plant operations are running as normal.”
ArcelorMittal and the United Steelworkers are conducting a joint investigation of the incident.
The episode occurred just days after the company and the union began talks on a new labor agreement. ArcelorMittal’s four-year agreement with 14,000 USW employees will expire Aug. 31.
A day before the incident, in a notice to members, the union called the company’s early proposals “unacceptable.”
The union says the proposal reduces pension benefits and allows the company to cut wages or hours during slow periods.
The company said in a statement Thursday, “ArcelorMittal USA is committed to working with the United Steelworkers to reach a fair agreement that creates a sustainable future for the company and its workforce.”
However, the company also said it would focus on four areas during contract negotiations “in order to close the competitive labor cost gap between ArcelorMittal USA and non-union mini-mills”:
• “Increasing shop floor flexibility and employee engagement;
• Transitioning to a lower and more variable cost structure;
• Implementing changes in benefit ; [and]
• Maintaining industry-leading pay through industry-leading performance.
About the Plant
The company is the top steel producer in the United States and a major supplier to the automotive and transportation sectors.
The company operates two integrated mills in Burns Harbor and East Chicago, IN.
The Indiana Harbor Works plant was formerly divided into the East and West Works. The East Works were founded by Inland Steel Corp (later ISPAT-Inland) in 1901 and employed more than 24,000 people in 1969. The West Works were founded in 1923 by the Youngstown Sheet and Tube Co., which later underwent a series of mergers and takeovers.
In 2005, the facilities were merged as the Indiana Harbor Works of Mittal Steel. The next year, Mittal took over Arcelor.