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Steel workers face many on-the-job risks

The steel industry remains alive and well in Butler, Pennsylvania, home of an AK Steel plant and a major regional employer. Its presence supports the economic needs and livelihoods of many families in the area. While the industry supports Butler's economic engine, it also has some pitfalls - primarily related to workplace hazards.

The pipefitters, welders, machinists, motor inspectors and others who work in steel plants are exposed to a number of potential risks that workers in other industries have difficulty understanding. Industrial accidents - some that may lead to serious injuries and even death - are not unheard of in steel plants.

Workplace hazards faced by steel workers

Some steel plants around the country have been criticized and even fined by OSHA for safety violations, but safety must remain a priority within this industry. Steel workers face a number of workplace hazards that may include:

  • Heat exposure: High temperatures are common in steel plants.
  • Burns: Fires can occur inside steel plants. Workers may suffer burns in a number of ways, including from steam burns and molten spills.
  • Asbestos exposure: Asbestos was used as insulation material at steel mills from the 1940s through 1970s. Steel mill workers such as millwrights and boilermakers are the ones most commonly exposed to this hazardous material, which can lead diseases such as lung cancer and mesothelioma.
  • Respiratory ailments: Exposure to many other substances including chemicals, carbon monoxide, dust, airborne chromium and nickel compounds may lead to lung cancer.
  • Noise-inducing hearing loss: Decibel levels at a steel plant may reach high levels, causing damage to workers' hearing.
  • Serious falls: Slips and falls are one of the more common industrial workplace injuries.

Industrial workers everywhere -- and not just in steel plants -- must take safety matters seriously because their lives may depend on it. Becoming a champion of safety is critical, but it really must become a collaborative effort between you, your supervisors and company leaders.

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