So Bad Feds Got Involved – Freak Factory Accident Melts Worker in Half, And It Could Have Been Prevented

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration has cited equipment manufacturer Caterpillar for violations of the Occupational Safety and Health Act after an employee at one of its foundries fell into molten iron in June.

The 39-year-old worker, Steven Dierkes, was just nine days into his job as a melting specialist at Caterpillar’s foundry in Mapleton, Illinois, when he fell into an 11-foot-deep vat of molten iron heated to over 2,000 degrees Fahrenheit, according to an OSHA news release.

Dierkes was removing a sample of molten iron from the furnace when he fell into it and was “immediately incinerated.”

The foundry was subsequently under investigation by OSHA.

The agency’s investigators found that at the foundry, employees were exposed “routinely” to “unprotected fall hazards” during their time working with four-foot-deep ceramic containers holding molten iron.

“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,” OSHA Regional Administrator Bill Donovan said.

“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,” Donovon added.

OSHA cited Caterpillar Inc. for one willful violation of 29 CFR 1910.28(b)(6)(i).

According to the violated policy, employers must protect employees working “less than 4 feet (1.2 m) above dangerous equipment … from falling into or onto the dangerous equipment by [installing] a guardrail system or a travel restraint system, unless the equipment is covered or guarded to eliminate the hazard.”

The agency proposed fines of $145,027 against the company.

“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,” OSHA Area Director Christine Zortman said.

“We implore employers to review the agency specific regulations to protect workers from falls into equipment in industrial settings,” Zortman added.

The Mapleton Foundry is one of Caterpillar’s largest such facilities in the U.S., employing around 800 workers and melting 1,000 tons of iron daily, according to the company website.

A year ago, the plant was the site of another accident.

On Dec. 23, 2021, the Peoria County Sheriff’s Office reported that around 9:40 a.m. that day, deputies responded to reports that a 50-year-old worker fell to his death from a significant height at the plant.

The deceased worker worked for a local contractor Caterpillar had hired.

Caterpillar spokeswoman Lisa Miller said in a statement shared with the New York Post that the company was “deeply saddened” by Dierkes’ demise.

“Our thoughts remain with this employee’s family, friends and colleagues,” she added. “The safety of our employees, contractors and visitors is our top priority at all Caterpillar locations around the world. Regarding the serious safety incident that occurred, we will continue to engage with OSHA to seek an appropriate resolution to its review.”

This article appeared originally on The Western Journal.