Worker severely burned during steel plant accident

A steel plant worker is being treated at a regional burn center after being severely burned in an accident Thursday evening.

The accident happened at the Gerdeau Long Steel North America plant on Tennessee Avenue at 8:40 p.m.

Five other people were transported to the University of Tennessee Medical Center for minor injuries, but were all released that night.

The company said it won't release personal information on the injured employee because of company policy and out of respect to employees and their families.

The plant melts down scrap metal. The employees were in the process of doing that when the accident occurred. Officials said they aren't sure whether molten metal or steam caused the burns.

Neighbors living near the plant said they heard a loud boom unlike anything they've heard before.

"It shook the whole house, and I thought it busted some windows," said Shane Nichols. "I heard car alarms going off, so I went out to my front porch and what I'd seen is smoke blowing out of every end of the whole factory."

Officials said they don't know what caused the accident. A Gerdeau spokesperson said in a statement the company is working with "the proper authorities to determine the root cause of the incident."

The plant remains closed while investigators try to figure out what happened.

10News looked into the company's OSHA history and found eight violations. Many of those were minor, and only one was for the Tennessee Avenue location, but the company has experienced two deaths at its Coster Road facility. (Note: A company spokesperson later contacted 10News and said the two deaths reported by OSHA were actually at its Jackson, Tenn. facility and not the one on Coster Road)

One of those deaths was in February 2008 when a worker fell while climbing down from a 14-foot ladder. Then less than two months later, a second Coster Road facility employee died after falling 40 feet. According to the report, a crane operator was standing on a landing waiting to enter the crane when he fell.

A company spokesperson explained the Tennessee Avenue location is a steel mill, whereas the Coster Road facility is a reinforcing steel location.

Gerdau is one of the major suppliers of specialty log steel in the world, with many locations across the US and Canada. The company says their products are used to build everything from homes to telephone poles.


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