Caterpillar employee ‘immediately incinerated’ after falling into pot of molten iron, OSHA says

Workplace accident occurred 9 days after employee was hired

Excavator booms, adorned with the Caterpillar Inc. "CAT" logo. (AP Photo/Charles Krupa) (Charles Krupa, Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.)

MAPLETON, Ill. – Caterpillar is being fined $145,000 due to a workplace accident where a new employee was “immediately incinerated” after falling into an 11-foot-deep pot of molten iron, according to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration.

Steven Dierkes, 39, had only been on the job nine days at the Mapleton foundry when he fell into the pot on June 2.

The victim, a melting specialist, was removing a sample of iron from a furnace when he fell into the melting pot which was heated to more than 2,000 degrees Fahrenheit.

According to a news release from OSHA, investigators determined that Caterpillar “routinely exposed employees to unprotected fall hazards as they worked within four feet of deep ceramic containers of super-heated 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,” said OSHA Regional Administrator Bill Donovan.

“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,” Donovan said.

More than 800 workers are employed at the foundry, which produces engine components used for construction and mining equipment, off-highway diesel and natural gas engines, industrial gas turbines and diesel-electric locomotives.

Federal safety regulations require guardrails and restraint systems to be installed by employers or to eliminate any hazards that might cause an employee to fall into dangerous 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.

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Mary Claire Patton has been a journalist with KSAT 12 since 2015. She has reported on several high-profile stories during her career at KSAT and specializes in trending news and things to do around Texas and San Antonio.