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Fraser Shipyards employee dies from injuries; company cited

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A Fraser Shipyards employee who was injured while working on a Great Lakes freighter in February has died, and the company faces a citation from the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration for the incident.

Joseph Burch, a member of the International Brotherhood of Boilermakers Local 117 and a 22-year employee of the company, died Saturday night, according to his family.

"He loved the work there," said Burch's brother, Eric Mackie of Duluth. "He was proud to work for Fraser."

Burch, 53, of Superior, leaves behind four siblings, his mother, nieces and nephews.

"He was a generous man," Mackie said. "He really cared for his family."

A veteran, Burch served in the U.S. Army in Alaska, as well as in the National Guard.

"He was an avid outdoorsman," Mackie said. "He'd hunt, fish, go camping."

The Superior native died as a result of burns suffered in the Feb. 6 incident on a vessel that was moored in the Twin Ports for repairs during winter layup.

"He never recovered from the burns," Mackie said.

"I would say he was a very brave man," said Mackie's wife, Amy.

They said Burch suffered burns to his lower extremities and had multiple infections related to the burns over the past few weeks, including sepsis.

OSHA on March 30 issued a citation to Fraser in connection with the incident, according to documents obtained by WDIO-TV.

The citation notes "serious" violations from what OSHA says was the use of "defective or damaged personal protective equipment" and not ensuring "that employees used appropriate hand protection or protective clothing when exposed to hazards."

It states that during work in the ballast tank or cargo hold of the freighter Roger Blough in February, "employees performing work with a hand-held torch were not adequately protected from molten metal, sparks, fire, or flame" because jackets and coveralls were not fire-retardant — something that was corrected during the OSHA inspection. The citation also states that protective clothing "was allowed to have holes and frayed fabric" — a violation the agency says must be abated by April 13.

The federal agency proposes a penalty of $12,548, according to the documents obtained by WDIO.

Companies can contest citations and appeal penalties from OSHA. Fraser Shipyards said Monday that it still is working with OSHA and that it will have the opportunity to discuss the findings further with the agency before a final resolution is determined.

"Fraser Shipyards is saddened to learn of the death of Mr. Burch. We wish to extend our condolences and deepest sympathies to his family and friends," James Farkas, president and chief operating officer of Fraser Industries, the shipyard's parent company, said in a statement Monday. "All of us at Fraser are thinking about him and those who loved him at this time of loss."

The February incident came just weeks after Fraser announced a settlement with OSHA after the shipyard was alleged to have overexposed workers to lead during the repowering of the freighter Herbert C. Jackson last year. OSHA cited Fraser with 14 health violations, and the original civil penalty was nearly $1.4 million. Under the terms of the settlement, Fraser had to pay a $700,000 fine and develop a new safety plan in exchange for not having to admit fault or liability for the alleged violations.

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