Kennecott worker dies from exposure to sulfur dioxide at smelter

The Utah Occupational Safety and Health Division is investigating the death Tuesday night of a Rio Tinto Kennecott employee exposed to sulfur dioxide two days earlier at the company’s smelter near Magna.

Division Director Cameron Ruppe said Wednesday that compliance officers with the state agency are conducting the probe and details will not be released until an accident-site inspection is complete.

Kennecott spokesman Kyle Bennett identified the deceased worker as Albert Lozano, 64, a 12-year company veteran. Lozano’s Facebook page called him a “former blister king” at Kennecott and said he lived in Santaquin.

To honor Lozano, Bennett said the company shut down operations at all of its Utah facilities — the smelter, refinery, concentrator and the Bingham Canyon Mine — for an hour Wednesday “to talk about this, to talk about safety and to make sure our people are physically and emotionally ready to return to work. … This has really shaken us to our core.”

The smelter has remained closed since the accident, he added.

Bennett said Lozano and another employee were performing “regular work duties to remove debris from a boiler and [were] exposed to sulfur dioxide gases” about 2 a.m. Sunday. The boiler is a large structure that captures and cools hot gases generated in the smelting process, producing particulate matter that can build up.

The victims notified another employee about the exposure, Bennett said. The company’s emergency response team came and treated Lozano onsite before he was transferred to an unidentified hospital, where he died Tuesday night.

The second victim’s injuries were not considered to be life threatening, Bennett added.

“We are deeply saddened by this tragedy,” Kennecott Utah Copper Managing Director Marc Cameron said in a news release. “Our hearts go out to our colleague’s family at this difficult time. We have lost a valuable employee and dear friend, and this incident will have a lasting impact on all of us.”

He noted that counseling is being provided to company employees and that an internal investigation also has been launched.

“It’s critical for us to understand what happened,” Bennett said. “We’re an organization that prides ourselves on safety. We have to ensure we improve and that our business is safer and we continue on this ultimate journey to zero harm.”

Lozano was a member of the United Steelworkers union, which also is sending two members of its international safety committee to investigate the death, said Scott Mullins, president of union local 392.