OSHA: Hazardous condition alleged at AK Steel site ‘did not exist’

Butler County-based steelmaker AK Steel.

Combined ShapeCaption
Butler County-based steelmaker AK Steel.

An investigation into alleged hazards at AK Steel’s Middletown Works site was closed shortly after it was opened on the grounds the hazardous condition did not exist, according to documents obtained by this news outlet from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration.

FIRST REPORT: OSHA to AK Steel: Investigate alleged workplace hazards

OSHA, in a March 22 letter to AK Steel, detailed the complaint it received regarding the alleged hazards, including “welders have no certification to weld or pressure pipes, structures, railings, etc.” and “no welding logs are being kept for certifications purposes.”

In its letter, OSHA informed AK Steel it had until March 29 to respond to the letter.

That response was sent by OSHA last week as part of a public records request made by this outlet at the onset of the investigation.

AK Steel, upon receipt of complaint from OSHA, conducted “a prompt and thorough investigation,” gathering and reviewing welding certifications issued over the last 10 years, according to Mick Paddock, manager of safety and health at the West Chester Twp.-based company, in a March 29 letter.

“In that timeframe, AK Steel has certified nearly 200 of its employees as welders,” Paddock said. “The enclosed documents confirm that AK Steel maintains appropriate documentation of the certification of its welders, and the complaint’s vague allegation to the contrary is without merit.”

AK Steel is Butler County’s third-largest employer with a total of approximately 2,400 full-time employees at its Middletown Works and corporate headquarters in West Chester Twp.

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Paddock said the complaint’s second point about the maintenance of “welding logs” that “AK Steel does not maintain welding logs dedicated to welding certifications, but no such logs are required.”

American Society of Mechanical Engineers standards indicate that a welder’s certification is renewed every six months as long as, within that six month period, the welder performs a successful weld using the relevant welding process under the supervision and control of a qualifying manufacturer, contractor or participating organization, Paddock said.

“AK Steel’s employees regularly perform welding work under AK Steel’s supervision and control, and this work is inspected and approved upon completion of each job,” he said in the letter. “This inspection and approval is documented in work orders associated with each job, but to gather and produce every work order would be voluminous and burdensome.”

AK Steel did provide OSHA with dated and signed welder qualification test records.

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Paddock said that given the large number of welders for whom AK Steel maintains certification, and AK Steel’s process for continuous inspection and approval of welding work performed at AK Steel’s Middletown Works, the company is “confident that its welding processes are performed by qualified and properly certified welders, and these processes do not pose any workplace hazards.”

“Moreover, AK Steel is also confident that its record retention practices for welding certifications does not violate … any of the standards promulgated under the Occupational Safety and Health Act,” he said. “OSHA standards do not specify any requirements to generate or retain any documents relating to the qualifications or certification of welder employees.”

“While AK Steel maintains these records as a best practice, the absence of these records does not indicate a violation of any OSHA standard or requirement.”

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AK Steel spokeswoman Lisa Jester said the company’s letter details how “the complaint was without merit” and how it complies with relevant OSHA standards.

“Our company’s safety record continues to exceed the industry average,” Jester said.

In a letter to the complainant, Ken Montgomery, OSHA’s area director, said the agency “feels the case can be closed on the grounds that the hazardous condition(s) did not exist.”

No further complaint on the matter was received, OSHA officials said.

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