July 31, 2014

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Republic worker killed in accident had expressed safety concerns

Frank Johnson Sr.

Frank Johnson Sr.

LORAIN — Work at a steel plant is dangerous and Frank Johnson Sr. had a few close calls during his 45 years at Republic Steel.

One day after work in the 1980s, Johnson returned home from work with a mark on his forehead after it was grazed by a wrecking ball, according to Debbie Johnson, his wife. But in the four to five months leading up to his being crushed to death at the plant Friday, Johnson had become increasingly concerned about safety.

“He said, ‘Debbie, I’m telling you, somebody is going to get killed out there, and I hope it ain’t me,’” Debbie Johnson said Sunday.

Johnson, a brakeman on a train hauling scrap, was riding on the side of a train car when he was crushed between the car and parked train cars, according to Tom McDermott, United Steelworkers Local 1104 president pro tem. The death is under investigation by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s Toledo office.

Paula K. Dudukovich, Republic director of human resources, wouldn’t answer safety questions Sunday.

“Our focus is the family of our colleague, and on working with all the appropriate authorities to learn how this tragic incident occurred,” Dudukovich wrote in an email. “We will be releasing more information as soon as we have an update.”

Republic is familiar to OSHA. The company was fined $235,000 in 2012 by OSHA for violations at the plant, including failure to protect workers from fall hazards and unsafe procedures involving hazardous equipment. In 2011, Republic was placed in the agency’s Severe Violators Enforcement Program due to a series of worker injuries and fatalities.

“There is no excuse for Republic Engineered Products to continue to neglect its workers safety,” Dr. David Michaels, an OSHA assistant secretary of labor, said in 2011 after the agency proposed a $563,000 fine. “It needs to make a serious effort to comply with common-sense regulations to protect its employees.”

Safety problems continued in the months before Johnson’s death. On Sept. 12, John Evanish, a 41-year-old worker, miraculously survived a 47-foot fall through a roof.

Evanish broke four bones in his back, seven ribs and suffered four compound fractures in his left arm. Evanish said doctors told him 95 percent of people who fall 25 feet or more die or are paralyzed.

“Everyone’s amazed that I’m alive,” Evanish said.

On Nov. 30, Republic suffered a fire that firefighters said caused millions in damage to the plant, which is completing an $85 million plant upgrade involving installation of an electric arc furnace. The upgrade is slated to create 450 new jobs and Republic officials said in January that the furnace is close to being fully operational. Republic’s website said it makes $1 billion in annual sales.

Johnson, 62, began work at the plant at 1827 E. 28th St., in 1969 as a bricklayer. He was laid off in 2008 after Republic’s blast furnace was shuttered in the economic crash.

Johnson returned to work in 2009 as a brakeman. He worked with his son, Frank Johnson Jr., a train operator who was hired in 2000. The younger Johnson was working in the scrap yard substituting for a vacationing worker when the crash occurred.

Johnson said his father was concerned about ice and snow on the tracks and a lack of maintenance on aging train cars.

“The trains need tons of work,” he said. “They’re ancient.”

Councilman Rick Lucente, D-6th Ward, is a maintenance and hydraulic repairman at the plant who was hired in 1973 and knew the elder Johnson. Lucente, Local 1104 pension chairman, said the elder Johnson had complained to him about newly hired workers lacking training that was increasing the potential for accidents.

Debbie Johnson and Frank Johnson Jr., said Republic officials haven’t discussed details of the accident with them. They remembered Johnson, a Brownhelm Township resident and father of two, as a hardworking man who only missed five days of work in his 45 years at the plant. He restored classic cars with his sons and grandson in his spare time.

Frank Johnson said his father instilled in him early in his life the need to work hard and be a good family provider.

“He was my hero,” Johnson said as he choked back tears.

Contact Evan Goodenow at 329-7129 or egoodenow@chroniclet.com.

  • keepsmewonderin

    I think the union officials need to start earning their big, fat paychecks. Accidents like this are totally uncalled for. Stop getting jobs back for idiot employees who don’t deserve them and focus on the real issues! Prayers to the Johnson Family.

    • county_elector

      That is a comment from an uninformed perspective.

      • Brian_Reinhardt

        Maybe keepsmewonderin knows something you don’t.

        • stillsleepyeyes

          Maybe county..elector is one of those big fat paychecks

    • Tommy Peel

      A man lost his life trying to earn a honest living. It was an accident. For you to suggest that he was an idiot employee who didn’t deserve his job back, shows your ignorance. It wasn’t the union officials paycheck that caused his death. Don’t let your jealousy of unions members prevent you from posting sensible comments.

      • stillsleepyeyes

        but isn’t it the unions job to make sure that they are safe? proper training, I realize that this was a accident and many of them have happened over the years, but isn’t this where the union is suppose to step in……just asking

        • Tommy Peel

          Yes it is the unions job to bring any unsafe working conditions to the companies attention, It is up to the company to act on the unsafe conditions. A company can pass countless OSHA inspections,but that is not going to stop workplace accidents from happening. That is why it is called an accident. just saying.

        • Tommy Peel

          Playing the blame game is not going to change the fact that a worker got killed.

          • Pablo Jones

            Isn’t this article about how he has expressed that there were safety issues that weren’t being addressed? If this were about saving a 1/2% raise in healthcare premiums to the employees the union would threaten to strike. But when it comes to safety and life and death the union only goes as far as informing to company it’s thoughts?

          • Tommy Peel

            Pablo, where was it written in the article that the safety issues WEREN’T addressed? Healthcare premiums and raises in healthcare, had nothing to do with the accident. What thoughts are you talking about? You are creating an scenario that only exist in your mind.

          • Pablo Jones

            Well…”But in the four to five months leading up to his being crushed to death
            at the plant Friday, Johnson had become increasingly concerned about
            safety.”

            If he is becoming increasingly concerned, that usually means things aren’t getting better.

            The point is the unions will fight for raises and benefits, but they won’t fight for safety.

          • stillsleepyeyes

            It’s not a game tommy, this was a mans life……………..just sayin

          • Tommy Peel

            stillsleeypyeyes: yes it was. to holler “union” so as to imply it was the union’s fault that this man lost his life has nothing to do with the article. …just saying

          • stillsleepyeyes

            well thats how your “scenario” goes………..i never said it was the “union” fault……….and yes it is up to the company and the workers to identify and correct hazards……….it is also the union to negotiate a safe work place along with health and wages…………..that is what they are paying dues for…………..just facts,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,

      • JustAnotherGuy

        Tommy I don’t think he was implying Mr. Johnson was an idiot. I interpreted his statement as saying instead of the union spending so much time getting the jobs back to those whom were fired for a valid reason, they should spend more time and resources to correct safety issues. I am a union member and I don’t think he meant anything bad toward Mr. Johnson.

        • Tommy Peel

          What does that have to do with the written article? It is up to the company to correct safety issues. It is up to the company and anybody in the workplace to identify potential safety hazards.

        • Tommy Peel

          Maybe I missed the part in the article that pointed out that someone got fired and the union got their job back.

  • Sandy Oswalt

    The steel mill is a dangerous place to work and that is one of the reasons the pay is higher than most jobs. My husband was almost killed there from a falling crane. My sister was also injured there from a fall. There are always steps to take in any job to insure better safety but accidents are just that, accidents. Sometimes the company is to blame and sometimes the employee is to blame for not taking the extra time to insure their own safety. Don’t know what the case was for Mr. Johnson but my heart felt prayers go out to his family because what matters is they lost someone they love, no matter what the reason. Very sad.

    • bpbatista

      Some times, no one is to blame.

      • Pablo Jones

        True some times things are truly accidents that couldn’t have been prevented. Fortunately those true accidents don’ occur that often. Most work place injuries are usually the fault of some one not following proper procedures or proper procedures weren’t in place. Many accidents I have seen were caused by safety procedures not being followed (equipment not locked out, short cuts taken because procedures take too long, cleaning not done properly, things not put away properly.)

        • Tommy Peel

          Pablo, wrote: “true accidents don’t occur that often.”
          Accident- an unfortunate incident that happens unexpectedly, and unintentionally, typically resulting in damage or injury.
          No such thing as a “true accident”

          • Pablo Jones

            If you don’t follow the procedures it isn’t unexpected, just a matter of time.

          • ekwaykway

            Procedures are written in blood. One must always follow a safe job procedure because someone in the past was injured performing the task. However, procedures cannot cover every possible hazard so employees must always use caution. My thoughts and prayers to his family and friends.

  • proccw

    thoughts and prayers go out to the Johnson family and friends.

  • Bill Love

    Can I ask a question why was he riding on the side of the train? Just curious

  • Debbie Hartman Johnson

    This could of been prevented as you will see when the ruling comes down. When there are no rails cleaned because the equipment hasn’t worked in years and amazingly gets fixed the day after the death yeah I don’t consider that an accident, also a train car was derailed with no warning signs posted , yeah that could of been prevented, lastly there was no stop there at that spot. Do you think that was an accident or could of been prevented? This all was seen by people. My husband worked there for 45 years and was safety conscience. Much more to the story as time will tell. Some of these comments are just plain ignorant!! He was riding where the brakeman rides to the question someone posted on why was he were he was, That’s where he was SUPPOSED to be!! Safety issues are our concerns , we do not want anyone else going through what we are going through right now. What is a life worth? I wonder and am waiting to see in the long run just how much was saved for my husbands life? A 500.00 part or less, just wondering, Hoping I’m wrong , what a travesty that would be. I’m no accusing anyone I’m waiting for the evidence to be the final word.