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Duke fined for fatal steam explosion

The state Department of Labor has levied a $35,000 fine against Duke University following a May steam-pipe explosion that killed a university employee.

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DURHAM, N.C. — Duke University has been fined $35,000 for safety violations cited in the wake of a steam pipe explosion that killed a maintenance worker in May.

The North Carolina Department of Labor fined the school for eight violations following the accidental death of university employee Rayford Cofer, 63.

Cofer, a master steamfitter from Franklinton, was in the mechanical room of the Levine Science Research Center when a steam line burst May 14.

An autopsy determined he died from burns to his skin and airways.

State inspectors examined Duke's campus after the incident and found eight safety violations, according to a report issued Wednesday. The violations included:

  • Having no written maintenance procedures or steam-pipe tests for employees working with the system on campus
  • Not having two easily accessible exits in case of emergency
  • Not having doors that swing outward to escape in an emergency
  • Not having warning signs posted near some steam lines
  • Having inoperable fire alarms or emergency lighting in some areas

The university said it has corrected many of the cited issues and has been working to enhance safety throughout the campus.

It has 15 business days to appeal the findings and the fine to the Labor Department or the independent Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission.


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