Caterpillar, Inc. has been fined after one of its employees died from falling into an 11-foot-deep pot of molten iron.
Back in June, Steve Dierkes, 39, from Peoria, Illinois was “immediately incinerated” after falling into the molten iron that was twice as hot as lava.
It was Dierke’s ninth day on the job as an employee and melting specialist at a Caterpillar foundry in Mapleton.
Caterpillar is a Fortune 500 corporation and one of the world’s biggest manufacturers of industrial vehicles and equipment.
A veteran Caterpillar worker, who wishes to remain anonymous, told the World Socialist Web Site (WSWS), that Dierkes “was taking a sample of iron for the met lab and apparently just tripped.”
The unidentified worker explained: “He died instantly, but not all of him went in. Part of his body remained on the deck for the coroner to retrieve.
“It must have been ghastly for those folks that witnessed it and to wait for the coroner with half of their coworker lying on the floor.”
The worker, called Ron to protect his identity, claimed “the death occurred on one of the large melters in the main foundry melting area.”
In the aftermath of Dierkes’s death, The U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration conducted an investigation into Caterpillar.
Investigators “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.”
The company was cited for one willful violation and fined $145,027 by OSHA.
“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.”
Employers are required by federal safety regulations to install guardrails and restraint systems to protect workers from falling into harmful equipment.
“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.
“We implore employers to review the agency-specific regulations to protect workers from falls into equipment in industrial settings.”
At the time of the incident, Caterpillar spokeswoman Lisa Miller said in a statement to The U.S. Sun: “We are 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 are with this employee’s family, friends and colleagues.
“The safety of our employees, contractors and visitors is our top priority.”
The company has 15 business days from the time of OSHA’s citation to chose one of three options.
Caterpillar can comply, request an informal conference with OSHA’s area director to further discuss the matter, or contest the findings of the investigation and citation in front of the independent Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission.
Dierkes is survived by his life partner Jessica Sutter and their three daughters.
According to his obituary, he is remembered as “a hard-working teddy bear of a man with calloused hands and a tender heart,” who “would have done anything for anyone with no expectation of anything in return.”