Northshore Mining faces $120,000 in fines after showing “reckless disregard” for worker safety when it failed to repair known issues in an elevated walkway before a section failed in September 2016, injuring one worker.
The Silver Bay pellet plant, owned by Cleveland-Cliffs, failed to maintain its outer walkways and did not provide barricades or warning signs on the crumbling walkways — which each warranted a $60,000 fine.
The investigation and fines stem from a complaint filed after a worker was hosing taconite pellets off a walkway 40-50 feet above the ground in one of Northshore’s conveyor galleries in September 2016 “when he heard a loud bang and felt the building begin to shake. Sheets of caked mud and buildup from around the structure began to fall on him. … When the shaking stopped, there was a hole in the floor of the walkway directly in front of him,” according to an administrative law judge's earlier decision.
The worker suffered a spinal cord contusion, mild post-traumatic stress disorder and sleep disturbances, the judge said.
In a split decision issued in January, the three-person Federal Mine Safety and Health Review Commission affirmed the administrative law judge’s earlier decision that Northshore Mining had shown “reckless disregard” and “unwarrantable failure” but fell short of a “flagrant violation.”
The commission also reversed the judge’s finding that two managers were liable and fining them for $4,000 each. However, Commissioner Arthur R. Traynor, III dissented, “as I find that the individual supervisors knowingly carried out the violation,” he wrote in the decision.
Cliffs had asked the commission to find the judge had erred in the earlier decision. The company did not respond to the News Tribune’s requests for comment.
According to the commission, the injured contract miner was wearing a harness at the time of the incident and credited it with preventing serious injury; however, the harnesses weren’t always clipped in when moving on the walkway, miners testified.
Immediately after the incident, a maintenance technician told one of the contract miners cleaning the walkway that the conveyor should have been shut down: “You never should have been in there … we’ve been telling them (upper management) that that has been in terrible condition for years now.”
The concrete had long been cracked and an engineering report from 2015 had determined the outer walkways should be restricted as the outside firm could not determine the walkway’s load-bearing capacity.
Upon hearing about the incident from the contract miner, a senior maintenance technician became “very angry” and said he had been warning management about the problem for years.
“They (upper management) just don’t seem to care,” the senior maintenance technician told the contract miner, according to the contract miner’s testimony.
In siding with the judge’s finding that Northshore Mining showed “reckless disregard and unwarrantable failure,” the commission wrote: “Despite knowing the walkway should be barricaded, Northshore left the site without a barricade for more than a year. … During that period, the walkway was open to anyone, and although some might recognize the surface conditions, others might not have appreciated the hazard of walking on the walkway especially due to the buildup of mud and taconite. Nothing was done to bar entry.”
The commission’s decision was first reported by Bloomberg Law.