Caterpillar Fined $145K in Connection with Death of Employee Who Fell Into Vat of Molten Iron

Steven Dierkes
Steven Dierkes

Steven Dierkes/Facebook

Construction equipment manufacturer Caterpillar Inc. is facing consequences for its alleged role in the death of a 39-year-old employee who fell into a pot of molten iron at the company's Illinois foundry.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has proposed a $145,027 fine to the Illinois-based company for failing to "install required fall protection" at its Mapleton job site prior to the June 2 incident, according to a statement released by OSHA Nov. 9.

The victim — previously identified by Peoria County Coroner Jamie Hardwood as Steve Dierkes, of Peoria — was "removing a sample of iron from a furnace" when he tumbled into the 11-foot-deep melting pot, OSHA said.

The melting specialist "was immediately incinerated" upon making contact with the molten iron, which reached more than 2,000 degrees Fahrenheit when heated, according to OSHA.

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"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 the statement.

Caterpillar did not immediately respond to PEOPLE's request for comment.

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Dierkes had been working at the Illinois foundry for just nine days before suffering "fatal burns" at the Mapleton workplace, according to OSHA.

The father of three was described in his obituary as "a hard-working teddy bear of a man with calloused hands and a tender heart."

In its statement, OSHA said the foundry "routinely exposed employees to unprotected fall hazards" while employees worked "within four feet of deep ceramic containers" filled with the molten iron without the required protections.

Donovan said Caterpillar "should be acutely aware of industry regulations to protect workers using smelters and other dangerous equipment" at its Mapleton foundry, one of the largest in the U.S.

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"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, per the statement.

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

Caterpillar was given 15 days to respond to contest or comply with the citation for willfully violating OSHA rules and regulations, according to the agency.

Companies that commit "willful or repeated" violations face a $145,027 fine per violation, according to OSHA's website.