OSHA investigating firefighter-EMT's death at steel plant job

Authorities suspect Kenny Ray Jr. died from suffocation after a nitrogen leak dramatically lowered oxygen levels in the area he was working

By Nick Glunt
Akron Beacon Journal 

CANTON, Ohio — Authorities are investigating after a Canton workplace incident left a 32-year-old worker at a TimkenSteel plant dead Sunday of suspected suffocation.

Kenny Ray Jr., 32, was found dead in a control room at the Faircrest Steel Plant, 4511 Faircrest Street SW. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration reported nitrogen — which is used in the plant — had flooded the air, causing oxygen levels to drop to less than 4 percent in the area where he was found. Rapid suffocation can occur when oxygen levels dip below 19.5 percent, OSHA reported. Earth’s normal oxygen level is 21 percent.

“We offer our thoughts and prayers to the family and friends of the worker who died in a preventable workplace incident,” said Howard Eberts, OSHA’s area director, in a media release. “Companies that have nitrogen systems need to make sure that they recognize the hazard of oxygen deficiency that can be created by its ability to displace oxygen.”

Ray had worked for TimkenSteel for six months in the security and fire team. He also was a Creston police officer and a Uniontown firefighter and paramedic.

Lance Kimmell, security and fire manager at TimkenSteel, said in a statement that Ray was a well-respected team member and the business is working with investigators.

“TimkenSteel’s security and fire team and the entire company are mourning the loss of our colleague,” Kimmell said. “We want to express our sympathy to his family, friends and the people of the communities where Kenny served as both a police officer and firefighter.”

In a Facebook post, Creston police also expressed their condolences.

“This afternoon one of our new officers, Kenny Ray Jr., was found deceased at his full time job, TimkenSteel,” police wrote. “At this time there is no official cause of death. Kenny was immediately well liked and accepted by our department.”

OSHA is working with TimkenSteel’s engineers to determine if the nitrogen system has caused any other oxygen-deficient areas. It wasn’t the first time TimkenSteel had a nitrogen exposure situation: In November, it cited the company for one incident in May.

Investigators noted TimkenSteel plants “have an extensive OSHA history.” In October 2015, OSHA placed the company in the agency’s Severe Violator Enforcement Program after workers were suffered strikes, falls and amputations at the Harrison and Gambrinus plants. The company contested those violations.

TimkenSteel officials did not immediately respond to a request for comment regarding the OSHA investigation.

Copyright 2016 Akron Beacon Journal 
All Rights Reserved 

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