The Cincinnati Enquirer
- An employee at AK Steel Corp. was killed Thursday when a
part from an overhead crane toppled onto him, causing the
plant's first fatal industrial accident in seven years.
A number of co-workers,
including a lifelong friend, witnessed the accident that
killed Ralph E. Jones, 41, of Waynesville.
"It was instant; he didn't feel any pain," his son, James,
Ed Shelley, president of the plant's 3,000-member union,
agreed that a long time had passed since the last fatality,
"but not long enough."
Outside the plant's union hall, a plaque reads:
In memory of those who have lost their lives at
It was formerly known as the nation's most dangerous
steel plant. Between 1972 and 1996, 15 workers died there,
resulting in hefty government fines. Since then, the
2,791-acre complex turned around its record and has won many
national safety awards.
"They've worked very hard on safety," said Richard
Gilgrist, Cincinnati area director for the U.S. Occupational
Safety and Health Administration, the federal agency charged
with overseeing workplace conditions.
That agency is still investigating one other 2003 death
arising from the Middletown Works, Gilgrist said. An employee
of Johnson Controls, Sheila Walker, 47, of Middletown, fell
down some steps at the plant Feb. 4 and fractured her ankle.
She died 13 days later from blood clots in both lungs,
according to the Butler County Coroner's Office.
Gilgrist said his office had not yet determined whether any
unsafe conditions contributed to Walker's fall.
Gilgrist's office, AK Steel, the workers union, Middletown
police and the county coroner's office are investigating
"There's nothing suspicious," said Middletown Police Lt.
Don Owens. "It appears it was an unfortunate industrial
accident, caused by a mechanical failure."
The accident occurred in the annealing department, where
steel is slowly heated and cooled to prevent brittleness.
Crews arrived in six minutes, Sauter said, and transported
Jones to Middletown Regional Hospital. He was pronounced dead
around 9:20 a.m., the county coroner's office said. An autopsy
is set for Saturday.
Jones was on a forklift, preparing to do maintenance work
on the crane, when its "lifting block" device fell onto the
forklift's safety cage, said AK spokesman Alan McCoy.
Middletown police said witnesses estimated the part weighed
"You can imagine what something like that would do," said
Shelley, president of the Armco Employees Independent
Federation. "Our hearts go out to his family and his friends
and to the workers who were on the job and saw this happen. It
had to be a devastating experience for all of them."
Many AK employees know Jones or his family because he
worked there 17 years and because his father, Ralph Jones Sr.
of Franklin, is an AK retiree, Shelley said.
The company offered counselors to Jones' family and
co-workers, McCoy said.
Richard M. Wardrop Jr., chairman and chief executive of AK
Steel, issued a written statement:
"The deepest sympathy, thoughts and prayers of AK Steel
employees everywhere are with Eric and his family and friends.
We cannot adequately express the sorrow we all feel."
The company employs more than 10,000 people in Ohio,
Pennsylvania, Indiana, Kentucky and other locations.
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