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Published: Friday, 6/13/2003

North Star celebrates safety record


DELTA - When Jason Santchi twisted his ankle while working at North Star BHP Steel, the Swanton man didn't just ignore the minor injury.

He passed on a description of the incident, which happened in the aisle near a ladle of molten steel, so none of the Delta minimill's other about 330 employees would face a similar or even worse mishap. Safety reports are routinely e-mailed to employees.

Such precautions have helped North Star BHP go without a lost-time injury accident since March 14, 2000 - or three years, three months, and counting - which managers believe to already be the longest run in the North American steel-making industry.

“Management has really prioritized [safety] as our No. 1 concern here, more so than production or profit or anything else,” said Mr. Santchi, who takes samples of molten steel and adds needed alloys, such as aluminum and boron.

Safety may be of top concern, but the Fulton County factory has been doing well with production and profit of late, too.

The joint venture between North Star Steel, a subsidiary of Cargill Inc. of suburban Minneapolis, and Australia's BHP Steel started making steel rolls in 1997. At the time, production was expected to top out at 1.56 million tons of steel rolls a year.

Last year, though, the minimill about 25 miles west of Toledo shipped 1.82 million tons of steel rolls without making any significant capital investments to improve the process. This year, if federal approval is granted, the company plans to spend $7 million to change its furnace operations and boost annual production to 2 million tons, said Rich Menzel, vice president of human resources.

As for profitability, a look at the checks production workers received yesterday says a lot: Each got $5,000 to $8,500 in profit sharing, a record. Those checks and bonuses will help bring the average production worker's compensation for this year and last into the high $50,000 range, Mr. Menzel said.

While the industry suffered a setback in the last half-dozen months, North Star BHP is booked through July, a far cry from December, 2001, when the minimill didn't know where its next order was coming from, said Jim Jonasen, company president. That after bankrupt LTV Corp. idled production.

North Star BHP ranked highest among 27 minimills in overall satisfaction, quality, service, and on-time delivery in a recent survey of flat-roll steel customers by Jacobsen & Associates, a steel-research firm. It was above average on the fifth category, pricing, an area where Mr. Jonasen said he is not concerned about being first.

Industry Week magazine named the Delta plantone of the top 25 in North America and the winner will be named next month.

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