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Company fined after worker dies from fall into pot of molten iron twice as hot as lava

Daniel Acker/Bloomberg via Getty Images

(MAPLETON, Ill.) — One of the world’s biggest manufacturers of industrial vehicles and equipment has been cited and penalized for the death of a worker who fell into an 11-foot-deep pot of molten iron heated to more than 2,000 degrees this summer.

Steve Dierkes, a 39-year-old employee and melting specialist at a Caterpillar foundry which produces cast iron engine components in Mapleton, Illinois, was “immediately incinerated” after falling into the huge tub of molten iron that was heated to approximately twice the temperature of volcanic lava on June 2 earlier this year. Dierkes was only on the ninth day of his new job when he died.

“Investigators with the U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration determined the foundry routinely exposed employees to unprotected fall hazards as they worked within four feet of deep ceramic containers of super-heated molten iron,” OSHA said in a statement. “If required safety guards or fall protection had been installed, the 39-year-old employee’s ninth day on the job might not have been their last.”

Caterpillar, a Fortune 500 corporation and construction equipment manufacturer, was cited for one willful violation and fined $145,027 by OSHA, according to OSHA’s statement announcing the punishment.

“A worker’s life could have been spared if Caterpillar had made sure required safety protections were in place, a fact that only adds to this tragedy,” said OSHA Regional Administrator Bill Donovan in Chicago. “Producing more than 150,000 tons each year, Caterpillar’s foundry is one of the nation’s largest and they should be acutely aware of industry regulations to protect workers using smelters and other dangerous equipment.”

Federal safety regulations require employers to install guardrails and restraint systems to protect workers from falls into dangerous equipment like Dierkes suffered.

“Caterpillar’s failure to meet its legal responsibilities to ensure the safety and health of workers leaves this worker’s family, friends and co-workers to grieve needlessly,” said OSHA Area Director Christine Zortman in Peoria, Illinois. “We implore employers to review the agency specific regulations to protect workers from falls into equipment in industrial settings.”

More than 800 people are employed at the Caterpillar foundry in Mapleton, Illinois, and the foundry manufactures “engine components used for construction and mining equipment, off-highway diesel and natural gas engines, industrial gas turbines and diesel-electric locomotives,” according to OSHA.

Caterpillar has 15 business days from the time of OSHA’s citation to either comply, request an informal conference with OSHA’s area director to discuss the matter further or contest the findings and citation in front of the independent Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission.

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