Two men injured in accidents at Lehigh Cement Co.


One worker lost the tip of a right finger and another fractured a leg and ankle in two separate industrial accidents that occurred within three hours yesterday at Lehigh Cement Co. in Union Bridge, authorities said.

The workers were out-of-state contracted employees performing scheduled maintenance when they were injured, company officials said.

"This is pretty unusual," said Brian Forsythe, production manager at the plant. He said he couldn't recall an accident in the two years he'd been there. "Safety is the No. 1 priority at the plant."

Lehigh, a 94-year-old company, employs many of Union Bridge's 1,000 residents at the plant, located in the 600 block of Quaker Hill Road.

The plant began a nine-day annual extended shutdown period Tuesday, during which most of Lehigh's major processing equipment will be out of commission, Forsythe said. The plant brings in contractors to help repair and replace parts and equipment during this time.

Forsythe confirmed the initial investigation of Carroll County Sheriff's Deputy First Class Kent E. Martin. Both said Donald Birchfield, 40, an employee of Birchfield Brothers Construction Co. in Elizabethton, Tenn., was replacing a 200-pound steel plate and moving it into a stone crusher with the assistance of two other workers when they lost control of the plate about 10 a.m. It fell on Birchfield's right hand, and the impact caused the tip of his right index finger to be severed.

The company's on-site rescue team, which includes staff trained as emergency medical technicians, was called, Forsythe said. The Union Bridge Fire Company Medic Unit also responded and took Birchfield to Carroll Hospital Center.

Sheriff's officials said the second accident occurred about three hours later when Lewis Bodkins, 35 of East Berlin, Pa. - an employee of Riley Welding & Fabricating Inc. in Hanover, Pa. - fractured his right leg and ankle.

Bodkins was working outside on a tower at the plant's coal building, said Maj. Thomas Long, a Sheriff's Office spokesman.

Forsythe said Bodkins was walking on a platform about 30 feet above ground as part of a crew doing maintenance work on a bucket elevator. The crew was replacing the side walls of elevators with steel plating that was propped up on the elevated platform, Forsythe said.

In the initial investigation, Sheriff's Deputy Cpl. Michael Zepp found that the hydraulics on a nearby boom failed, causing the boom to lower and strike two steel plates on the platform supporting Bodkins.

One of the steel plates struck Bodkins and fractured his right leg and ankle, authorities said. The plant's emergency response team also tended to Bodkins after he was lowered to the ground.

Forsythe said the failure of the hydraulic boom was being investigated.

The Union Bridge Fire Company Medic Unit responded again and took Bodkins to Carroll Hospital Center.

Although Lehigh will conduct its own investigation into the accidents, Forsythe said company officials will work with the Maryland Occupational Safety and Health agency.

"We responded quickly," Forsythe said. "We're relieved these guys weren't hurt more seriously. We'll be doing a thorough investigation. There are still a lot of facts to gather."

The conditions of the two men were not available, but authorities said the injuries were not life-threatening.

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