Caterpillar to Blame for Worker's Fall Into Molten Iron

OSHA proposes $145K fine over Steve Dierkes' death in June
By Arden Dier,  Newser Staff
Posted Nov 16, 2022 9:50 AM CST
Company Faulted for Worker's Fall Into Pot of Molten Iron
This May 8, 2019, photo shows Caterpillar vehicles near a demolition site in Fort Lauderdale, Fla.   (AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee, File)

A worker had been on the job a little over a week when he fell into a pot of molten iron that ABC News reports was "twice as hot as lava." Steve Dierkes, a melting specialist at a Caterpillar foundry in Mapleton, Illinois, was "immediately incinerated" by the liquid, heated to more than 2,000 degrees, on June 2. On Nov. 9, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration cited construction-equipment manufacturer Caterpillar for willfully violating the Occupational Safety and Health Act and proposed a fine of $145,027. OSHA investigators 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," according to a statement.

Under federal safety regulations, employers are required to have guardrails or other restraints to protect workers from dangerous falls. But the foundry didn't have them. If it did, "the 39-year-old employee's ninth day on the job might not have been their last," OSHA said. Dierkes had been removing an iron sample from a furnace when they fell into the 11-foot-deep pot and died instantly, per the Journal Star. "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.

A rep for Caterpillar, one of the world's largest manufacturers of industrial vehicles and equipment, said safety is "our top priority" not only at the Mapleton foundry, where 800 employees make cast-iron engine components, but "at all Caterpillar locations," per the Star. "We will continue to engage with OSHA to seek an appropriate resolution to its review," the rep added. The company has until next Thursday to challenge or comply with the proposal. OSHA previously noted the foundry didn't have adequate protection from falls following the death of an employee in December. Scott Adams fell 20 feet through a hole in the floor, per the Star. OSHA cited two contractors and proposed fines of $10,151 in that case. (More worker safety stories.)

Get the news faster.
Tap to install our app.
Install the Newser News app
in two easy steps:
1. Tap in your navigation bar.
2. Tap to Add to Home Screen.