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State fines Geneva for hazards at factory

Report criticizes relations between workers, company

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VINEYARD, Utah County — The Utah Occupational Safety and Health Division could find no proof for the cause of an explosion last March that injured eight Geneva Steel workers, but it has fined the company for an alleged hazard that may have made the explosion worse.

Carl Ramnitz, Geneva vice president of human relations, said the company is appealing. An Aug. 30 conference has been set to discuss its differences with OSHA's initial findings.

The investigator's report called for better relations between management and employees.

The report said the relationship "has deteriorated to the point that each side is blaming the other for everything. The union does not believe management, and management pays very little attention to what their employees say."

Joseph A. Cannon, Geneva's CEO and chairman of the board, said he did not believe that statement was characteristic of the mill as a whole.

"I doubt that he (the investigator) took a very scientific sample of the management or the employees. It's hard for me to understand exactly where he's coming from," Cannon said.

The March 5 explosion occurred when molten steel came in contact with water lining a furnace to keep the outer lining cool.

The company was fined for having water present in an area that could and did frequently come in contact with molten steel, producing small explosions. The initial fine was $7,000, but the company was credited for several safety measures it had taken and the fine was reduced to $3,150.

The furnace contains 30 inches of protective slag and brick to keep the steel and water separated. Investigators concluded that separation broke down but could not definitively determine why.

Geneva employees told investigators large coils of steel had been dropped into the furnace without enough cushioning to protect the brick lining. However, none of them would sign a written statement.

"The most likely cause was mechanical damage to the refractories lining the surface," the state report said. "This could have been caused by not having sufficient material loaded into the furnace before large (heavy) pieces of steel were dropped in."

The report also said that the mill did not apply a slag patch, which requires 16-17 hours to cure, to shore up the brick liner. Since the other furnace was under repair, the mill used a slurry patch, which only requires an hour to cure but is a temporary fix.

Kelly Hansen, treasurer for the United Steelworkers Union Local No. 2701, said employees felt Geneva set aside safety for production during the initial stages of the company's bankruptcy.

"There have been communication problems between management and employees on safety and other issues," he said.