November 27, 2014

Elyria
Cloudy
30°F
test

Republic Steel appealing $7,000 fine in worker’s death

Frank Johnson

Frank Johnson

LORAIN — Republic Steel is appealing a $7,000 fine levied against the company in the Feb. 14 death of a Lorain man who was crushed between railroad cars.

The steelmaker’s appeal was filed with the U.S. Department of Labor, of which the Occupational Health and Safety Administration is an agency. Thursday was the deadline to file the appeal.

Rhonda Burke, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Department of Labor in Chicago, confirmed the company’s appeal of the fine, but said no reasons have to be stated for an appeal.

Officials with Republic Steel did not return calls Thursday.

The fine was issued May 22 by OHSA officials.

The fine was levied after OSHA’s three-month investigation that concluded railroad tracks at the East 28th Street plant were not free of ice, which led to derailment of one train car Feb. 14 that was struck by another car carrying scrap.

Frank Johnson Sr., 62, was crushed between the railroad cars as he rode on the end car hauling scrap, according to a report by Lorain police Detective Buddy Sivert.

Johnson had worked at the steel mill since 1969.

Kymberly Nelson, area director of OSHA’s Toledo office, said in May that the agency “found enough evidence to support that (Republic) had some basic knowledge of the hazard, which resulted in the fatality.”

The OSHA probe did not find any “intentional disregard” or “plain indifference” on the part of Republic, which could have led to a maximum $70,000 fine.

Debbie Johnson, Frank Johnson’s widow, termed the $7,000 fine “an insult” and “kind of a slap in the face.”

“The fine may seem horrific to any of us, but it is based on violations of safety standards,” Burke said. “You can never put a price on a life.”

Johnson said her husband had complained for a number of years that equipment used to de-ice the tracks was malfunctioning.

Fellow Republic worker Reed Deberry, a 44-year employee and train engineer for 20 years, said the tracks were in poor condition and there was a buildup of snow and ice on them, according to the police report into the accident.

Despite complaints by workers, nothing was done to correct the situation, Deberry told police.

Johnson’s wife told The Chronicle-Telegram for a May 23 article that the police report proved Republic was negligent.

The case will now be heard by a federal administrative law judge and will include testimony from both sides, Burke said.

“Like most court proceedings, it can take some time before being ruled on,” Burke said.

In such cases, fines can be reduced by a judge but not increased, she said.

“Given the fact that the fine was not extremely high, it’s doubtful that it would be reduced,” Burke said.

The $7,000 fine came a few weeks after OSHA and Republic Steel reached an unrelated $2.4 million settlement over violations at the Lorain plant and Republic’s other steel mills in Canton, Massillon and Blasdell, N.Y.

Contact Steve Fogarty at 329-7146 or sfogarty@chroniclet.com.