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Metro Detroit steelmaker fined $32.5K after man dies from acid burns

Breana Noble
The Detroit News

A South Lyon-based steel manufacturer is being fined $32,500 after a worker fell into a vat of sulfuric acid and later died.

The Michigan Occupational Safety and Health Administration last month completed its investigation of Michigan Seamless Tube LLC concerning the Feb. 9 incident that led to the death of 54-year-old Daniel Hill. The inspections resulted in five serious citations, according to the state agency, and more investigations since have been opened into the facility.

Daniel Hill

Michigan Seamless Tube received the citations July 31, according to MIOSHA. It has until Thursday to file an appeal with the state agency, which had not received an appeal as of Tuesday.

Michigan Seamless Tube did not immediately respond to request for comment. In February, a Michigan Seamless spokesman described Hill as "a valued employee" who had been with the company since April 2017. The company was conducting its own investigation into the incident and was "cooperating fully" with the state agency, he added.

The citations included 63 instances of the employer not following proper procedures for employee entry into permit-required confined spaces, according to the state agency.

“The employer did not ensure an employee was wearing chemical-resistant goggles or face shield when handling sulfuric acid, and the employer had no written certification of a hazard assessment for personal protective equipment,” Jeannie Vogel, public information officer for MIOSHA, said in a statement. “Emergency showers were not immediately available at the location where employees retrieve and handle samples of sulfuric acid.”

South Lyon police responded to an emergency call at 12:21 p.m. Feb. 9 from the manufacturing facility at 400 McMunn St. Officials said Hill was fully submerged in 10-12% sulfuric acid solution when his co-workers pull him from the industrial container. Some of those workers also were burned in the at least 160-degree chemical solution and were treated on the scene.

South Lyon police responded to Michigan Seamless Tube, on the 400 block of McMunn, early Saturday afternoon, after a man fell into a tub of sulfuric acid.

Although the state agency found emergency showers were not immediately available where sulfuric acid was being handled, employees were able to put Hill under a safety shower after he was pulled from the vat, officials said. He was able to walk and talk when fire and police arrived. Medics transported him to University Hospital in Ann Arbor, where he died roughly 11 hours later of chemical burns.

It was unclear how Hill ended up in the vat and how much time passed before he was rescued.

MIOSHA has opened two other investigations into the company without advance notice since Hill’s death. One, which opened at the end of July, was the result of a safety complaint, according to the inspection’s details. The case also lists an "AMPUTATE" code, a note for the agency to track workplaces with machinery and equipment that are capable of causing amputations.

"The presence of this code does not indicate an amputation occurred," Vogel said.

Another inspection opened in April related to workers’ health. Since the inspections still are open, no further details from the state agency are available at this time.

Michigan Seamless Tube, one of South Lyon's largest employers, has had seven workplace safety violations since 2012, according to the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration, with fines totaling $93,000.

The state of Michigan fined the company $17,500 for a repeated violation a year ago of not guarding or protecting six employees from "pinch points," places where people or body parts could be caught in a machine or between equipment.

Regulators found Michigan Seamless Tube had four "serious" violations in 2012. That included four instances of unguarded pinch points exposed to 18 employees that resulted in a $35,000 settlement.

Another serious violation related to the company's control of hazardous energy and also resulted in a $35,000 fine.

The final two serious violations included a $2,500 fine for not conducting annual inspections of energy control procedures. Regulators also determined 18 employees did not receive training on hazardous energy sources, resulting in another $2,500 fine.

A failure to log an injury within seven days in 2012 led to a $1,000 fine.

In 2014, the state also found the company was not keeping storage areas free from accumulated materials that could cause a fire or explosion or harbor pests. The violation affected 12 employees, though no fine was issued.

Michigan Seamless Tube is a wholly owned subsidiary of Indiana-based Specialty Steels Works Inc. The company emerged from Chapter 11 bankruptcy in 2017 and renamed from Optima Specialty Steel. It also owns steel manufacturers Niagara LaSalle Corp. in Hammond, Indiana, and Corey Steel Co. in Cicero, Illinois.