VINEYARD, Utah County — An industrial accident at Geneva Steel on Thursday morning killed a veteran steel worker.
Jerry Nelson, 56, Salem, was buried underneath 17 tons of iron ore pellets at about 8 a.m. while he was working on a car that rolls into a blast furnace with full loads of iron ore.
Employees near the scene worked frantically to free the trapped man, said Carl Ramnitz, Geneva vice president of human resources.
Both Orem City's and the plant's emergency personnel responded to the scene. Workers tried to remove the golf-ball sized pellets from the car with shovels and an industrial vaccumm.
Orem Police Lt. Ned Jackson said Nelson, who worked at Geneva for about 24 years, died at the scene after several attempts to rescusitate. The body was taken by ambulance to Timpanogos Regional Hospital.
Ramnitz said a preliminary investigation indicates that a gate that stops "scale cars" from entering the area near the furnace to dump loads into "skip cars" was not shut.
"It was in an operable position when it should have been in an inoperable position," Ramnitz said.
Because the gate was not closed, an operator directing the scale cars did not know it was not safe to send another car in with a full load to dump into the skip cars.
He sent one of the cars inside and mistakenly dumped the materials on Nelson, who was working inside a skip car.
No other workers were injured. The operator of the scale cars was transported to the hospital Thursdy to be treated for shock, Ramnitz said.
Counseling is now being set up for Geneva workers who have been adversely impacted by Nelson's death, he said.
"It's obvious that this is not what should have happened," said Ramnitz. He added Geneva has launched an internal investigation and Utah's office of OSHA was en route Thursday morning to probe the incident.
This is the third fatality at the Vineyard plant since it reopened in 1988. In 1994 an electrician was electrocuted while working on a circuit breaker. In July 1997, a worker was killed after being crushed between a steel rail and a crane cab.
In March of this year, a Geneva worker was critically injured when a furnace wall failed in one of the plant's basic oxygen furnaces and 220 tons of molten steel leaked through a shell. After running down the side of the furnace, the steel burned through a water-cooled jacket. When the steel mixed with the water it set off a series of explosions. Four others suffered less serious injuries in the explosions.
In 1990, eight workers were injured when an explosion occurred at the plant's slab release area.
Geneva, in a bankruptcy reorganization plan, employs about 1,700.