Most folk know that working steel is dangerous, but they may not realize how truly scary these jobs can be….
According to the United Steel Workers of America (USWA), a USWA worker is killed while doing his job every TEN DAYS in his country (see report, p.2). The union has been investigating these tragedies for over 20 years, and they’re still trying to find out why people die on the job, and what can be done to make life safer for steel workers.
What’s happening here?
According to the International Labor Organization (ILO), steel workers face a variety of dangers as they do their jobs, the most common being:
- Hazard of falling down from considerable heights, while joining metal components of a building; and/or when the work is done while standing on a ladder or at an elevated surface;
- Being hit by falling objects (falls of heavy loads on the feet or on other parts of the body;
- Eye injury, as a result of flying metal splinters, while working with a chisel and hammer, or when doing sharpening, cutting or welding works;
- Back and spinal column injury caused by lifting and moving heavy loads;
- Exposure to very high noise levels; and
- Electrocution, as a result of touching live electric wires, or while working with portable power tools the isolation of which is defective.
You’d Think Job Safety Would Be Standard By Now, Right? You’d Be Wrong.
Historically, working in steel mills quickly separated the men from the boys — even in the 1800s, the steel industry was a place where lots of workers died on the job.
By the 21st century, you’d think that things would be pretty safe, that the conditions associated with death would be resolved. Wrong.
In 2008, the number of deaths in steel mills was higher than it had been in years. Then, fingers were pointing to high demand for the product pushing workers to work hard and fast, which always invites accidents and injuries. Today, fingers can point to the decline in steel demand and the pressure on companies to maximize their dollars, trying to stay out of the red. The U.S. Steel industry is suffering along with the rest of the economy these days.
For the father, son, husband, brother (or mother, daughter, wife, sister) who enters a steel mill for a hard day’s work, they bring with them not only a commitment to a job well done, but a spine as hard as the product they’re making.
Working steel takes courage. And steel workers deserve acknowledgment and respect for that fact.