A 39-year-old Illinois foundry worker fell into a pot of molten iron — 11 feet deep and heated to more than 2,000 degrees — on June 2 and was "immediately incinerated," the Occupational Safety and Health Administration said last week.
A federal investigation determined that if required safety guards or fall protection had been installed at the Mapleton facility, the tragedy on the worker's ninth day on the job may have been avoided, OSHA noted.
OSHA also cited Caterpillar Inc. of Irving, Texas — operator of the foundry which produces cast iron engine components — for one willful violation and proposed fines of $145,027.
Investigators also determined that the foundry "routinely exposed employees to unprotected fall hazards as they worked within four feet of deep ceramic containers of super-heated molten iron."
The deceased worker — a melting specialist — was removing a sample of iron from a furnace when the fall occurred, OSHA said.
USA Today, citing the Peoria County coroner, identified the victim as Steven Dierkes of Peoria.
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Dierkes' death was the second to occur at the Mapleton foundry in less than a year. In December 2021, East Peoria resident Scott Adams fell to his death at the facility. Adams is believed to have fallen over 20 feet through a hole in the floor, suffering fatal injuries, according to an OSHA investigation.
In June, OSHA issued citations to two contractors involved with the site and proposed fines of $10,151, alleging that workers at the foundry were not adequately protected from falls as required by safety regulations.
Federal safety regulations require employers to install guardrails and restraint systems — or cover or otherwise eliminate the hazard to protect workers from falls into dangerous equipment, the agency added.
"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," Christine Zortman, the OSHA area director for Peoria, said. "We implore employers to review the agency specific regulations to protect workers from falls into equipment in industrial settings."
Caterpillar Inc. employs more than 800 workers at the foundry, which makes engine components used for construction and mining equipment, off-highway diesel and natural gas engines, industrial gas turbines, and diesel-electric locomotives, OSHA said.
The company has 15 business days from receipt of the citations and penalties to comply, request an informal conference with OSHA's area director, or contest the findings before the independent Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission, the agency noted.