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TRAGEDY AT AK STEEL

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Worker killed at AK Steel
The AK Steel community found itself wrestling with the death of a worker Thursday. AK maintenance worker Ralph Eric Jones, 41, of Waynesville, was pronounced dead ... More

Ralph Eric Jones (Cox News Service)

Family, friends mourn

By Kristin McAllister
Warren County Bureau

Family members, friends and union members were left to mourn the death of Ralph Eric Jones on Thursday.

Armco Employees Independent Federation President Ed Shelley said there is no way for union members to prepare for such a tragedy and for those who witnessed it. Instead, he said, it will take a lifetime to deal with.

"There's not a word you can say," Shelley said, sitting at a picnic table outside the union's Crawford Street headquarters, where flags were flying at half staff early Thursday evening.

"You never want that to happen to you." Shelley said he and other union officers went to Middletown Regional Hospital to "do anything we can to help comfort the family."

For the family of a worker killed on the job, Shelley said the loss is incredible.

"It's awful," he said. "It's like, you send them to work and they don't come home."

Jones' son, James, 24, said one his father's favorite pastimes was spending time as a family building the ornamental stone and flower gardens surrounding the Jones home, in the Waynesville area, where they have resided for five years since moving from Beavercreek.

A variety of wind chimes and bird feeders also adorn the porch, walkways and yard.

"He loved being outdoors. It was relaxing for him," James Jones said Thursday afternoon. "I know my mom loves it. It was something they could spend time doing together."

Gesturing to the carved rails of the porch and boardwalk that crosses over a stone-edged lily pond filled with fish and passes by a small waterfall, James said his father spent many hours tending to his projects, including several lattice structures positioned throughout the yard.

"He was a really good guy - a very hard worker," he said quietly. "He loved building things and doing things for people. He was a really good person."

Iris Bennett, Jones' mother-in-law, said she and her husband, Arthur, dearly love their son-in-law.

"He was a wonderful, loving man. You couldn't ask for a better father and son-in," she said, then paused. "He's not a son-in-law, he's a son. He was a loving, caring person. When you met him you couldn't help loving him. He calls me mom and I call him son. And he was a loving husband to my daughter."

Shelley said he knew Jones's father, a retired Armco employee, and had met Jones before.

"We're there for the family as best as we can be," Shelley said. "We're a brotherhood type of organization," Shelley said.

"I think the whole union hurts. Your first thought is that one of your brothers was killed. Your second thought was that it could have been you."

- Journal Staff Writer Craig Heimbuch contributed to this report.

Safety emphasized
at AK Steel

Thomas Gnau
and Craig Heimbuch

From the Middletown Journal

Safety has been an area of intense effort at AK Steel Corp. since a former No. 2 OSHA official, James Stanley, was hired in January 1996 to become the company's first vice president in safety and health.

Early in his tenure, Stanley pledged to work with contractors.

"We're going to apply OSHA's process safety management to contractors," Stanley said in 1996. "And we have rules that go beyond OSHA standards."

"Nobody should die at work," Stanley said at the time. "We hope to become the safest steel company in the world."

Company leaders have taken pains to emphasize their approach to safety. Wardrop routinely begins public speeches by addressing the company's safety record.

In January, U.S. Secretary of Labor Elaine Chao appointed Stanley to the National Advisory Committee on Occupational Safety and Health.

On the homepage of AK's Web site, the company says its Middletown coke plant has operated without a single OSHA-recordable injury for the fifth time in six years.

In May, the plant was awarded the Max Eward Safety Award from the American Coke and Coal Chemicals Institute. Stanley could not be reached for comment Thursday. Union head Ed Shelley found himself wrestling with the reality of death - and the efforts that go into preventing it.

"I'll say this," Shelley said early Thursday evening. "There has been a genuine effort by the union and the company to avoid these kinds of accidents."

When asked if he had a single message for the 3,000 members of the union, Shelley said,

"Pray for the family."

 

   


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