Third accident at BHP steelworks
By Margaret Allan
NEWCASTLE — The third serious accident in four months occurred at the BHP steelworks on July 24. Unlike the earlier accidents, no-one was killed, although three men were rushed to hospital suffering serious smoke inhalation.
The accident happened when molten metal broke through a newly formed metal skin in a bloom-casting machine, in which liquid metal is cooled into solid steel blocks, known as blooms. The metal ignited electrical cables, hydraulic hoses and water conduits through a series of explosions.
The burning rubber and plastic produced a cloud of smoke over the city. Workers report that damage would have been minimised if adequate safety measures had been taken. One man was overcome while using an internal staircase — no external fire escape exists — which filled with toxic smoke within minutes.
Despite a similar accident five years ago, the fire escape is obviously still inadequate. The two other men, who had decided not to leave the control panel room after the accident, were affected when the room filled with smoke via the air-conditioning system.
Industry sources estimate that BHP stands to lose up $16 million from this accident, which came less than a month after it announced plans to shed two-thirds of its 3000-strong work force over the next seven years.
Three steelworks workers died this year in two accidents in March. On March 14, an explosion in an oxygen steel-making furnace incinerated two crane drivers working above the furnace as their crane cabin was engulfed in molten metal. The cranes have since been strengthened. The third death occurred when a diver was sucked into an underwater pipe which was not meant to be in use at the time.