Huger plant to pay fine over employee's injury

Charleston, S.C.
JOHN P. MCDERMOTT
Jan 11, 2003

Copyright The Post and Courier Jan 11, 2003

AH: 19-year-old lost leg in JM Steel incident

A company has agreed to pay an $1,800 fine to a state workplace agency and implement new safety policies in the case of a 19-year- old worker who lost a leg and whose left hand was severed when a 4,700-pound steel coil fell on him at a Huger metalworking plant last year.

The accident occurred Sept. 13, Jacob Runkle's second day on the job at JM Steel Corp., according to the state Office of Occupational Safety and Health, part of the S.C. Department of Labor, Licensing & Regulation.

While operating a piece of equipment that lifts and transfers large steel coils made at the nearby Nucor mill, Runkle pushed a button on a remote control that released the support mechanism, investigators said in a report. Nine coils shifted, and one fell on Runkle.

Other employees used a forklift to pry the steel off Runkle, whose left hand was severed and left leg crushed. He was flown by helicopter to the Medical University of South Carolina's trauma center, where his hand was reattached. His left leg had to be amputated above the knee, and he nearly lost his right leg.

The report said Runkle, a trainee, was unsupervised while he was operating the machine. Charleston attorney Mark Tanenbaum, who represents Runkle, said his client's supervisor was responding to a plant emergency at the time of the accident.

Tanenbaum noted that safety inspectors found no major violations at the facility just a few months before the accident.

Runkle spent several weeks in intensive care and is now undergoing physical therapy, Tanenbaum said. Runkle is no longer employed by JM Steel. "He's one heck of a fighter," Tanenbaum said.

Workers at JM Steel told state safety investigators that they never had seen an operating manual for the equipment Runkle was using. Although the company had a copy of the manual, which included safety procedures, it did not provide it to workers, according to the report.

"It wasn't standard procedure to give that to everybody, but it is now," said Dexter Skidmore, plant manager.

Also, the company has moved the button that controls the movement of the coils to a station farther away. In addition, a safety buzzer has been installed on the equipment to alert workers when the support mechanism is released.

The state said the company should have known the equipment posed a serious injury hazard and should have used the manufacturer's operating manual to train workers.

"We have corrected everything," Skidmore said.

JM Steel, a subsidiary of Pittsburgh-based Jennmar Corp., opened its Huger fabrication plant in June 2000. It has not been cited for any other major safety violations, Skidmore said.

In this instance, the company could have been fined up to $7,000, said Jim Knight, spokesman for the Department of Labor, Licensing & Regulation. In computing penalties, the state considers a company's safety record, existing programs, size, and factors such as the seriousness of the violation, he said.

The initial fine against JM Steel was $4,500, but that amount was reduced to $1,800 under a provision that employers can take advantage of once within a three-year period, Knight said. In exchange, companies agree to implement workplace safety policies or programs that go beyond what is required by law.

John P. McDermott covers business. He can be reached at jmcdermott@postandcourier.com.

Credit: Of The Post and Courier Staff

Reproduced with permission of the copyright owner. Further reproduction or distribution is prohibited without permission.