Federal Investigation Says Caterpillar Employee Fell to Death in Molten Iron in Freak Accident

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OSHA cited Caterpillar Inc. for one willful violation and proposed fines of $145,027.

After a federal investigation concluded that a Caterpillar employee died in a freak accident when he fell to his death in molten iron in June, the U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has proposed a fine of over $145,000, according to reports.

Steven Dierkes, the 39-year-old employee who was a melting specialist at the Mapleton foundry in Mapleton, Illinois, was said to be removing an iron sample from a furnace when Dierkes fell into the 11-foot-deep pot, which was "heated to more than 2,000 degrees Fahrenheit," according to a press release by OSHA.

Dierkes died instantly, OSHA said.

"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 in a statement. "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."

The foundry manufactures cast-iron engine components for the construction equipment manufacturer, USA Today reported.

OSHA said that their investigation found "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 cited Caterpillar Inc. for one willful violation and proposed fines of $145,027.

"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 in Peoria, Illinois, said in a statement. "We implore employers to review the agency specific regulations to protect workers from falls into equipment in industrial settings."

Caterpillar is one of the world's largest manufacturers of industrial vehicles and equipment and operates the foundry, according to The Telegraph.

Inside Edition Digital reached out to Caterpillar for comment on this story and a spokeswoman said in a statement: "We continue to be deeply saddened by the death of an employee who was involved in a serious incident at our Mapleton, Illinois, facility on June 2. Our thoughts remain with this employee’s family, friends and colleagues. 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."

OSHA said that “Caterpillar Inc. employs more than 800 workers at the foundry, who provide engine components used for construction and mining equipment, off-highway diesel and natural gas engines, industrial gas turbines and diesel-electric locomotives.”

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