Illinois Caterpillar workers are threatening to go on strike, blaming poor workplace conditions after a worker fell into an 11-foot-deep pot of molten iron
- Nine days after working at a foundry owned by Caterpillar Steven Dierkes died after falling into molten iron.
- Osha determined that Dierkes life could have been spared if fall protection had been installed.
Workers at Caterpillar's foundry in Mapleton, Illinois are blaming the working conditions for the June death of a fellow worker who was incinerated after he fell in an 11-foot-deep pot of molten iron.
Workers at the Mapleton plant are now threatening to go on strike months after the June 2 death of Steven Dierkes, a 39-year-old father of three, blaming the working condition, according to a story published November 26 by The Guardian.
"You breathe in smoke and dust six, seven days a week," the former employee at the plant recently told The Guardian. "There was a lack of concern whenever we brought up a safety issue there. Most of the time it was overlooked or their fix created a whole new safety issue or multiple issues."
Another anonymous employee told the Guardian that the plant had the workers come back two days after Dierkes death.
"The air literally still smelled like his burning body," The worker told the Guardian. "There were no guard rails, no harness procedures and nothing to ensure you wouldn't fall into the massive holes filled with iron. As he was collecting a sample of iron with the spoon, he fell in and churned up."
Federal investigators from the U.S. Department of Labor's Occupational Safety and Health Administration determined that Dierkes's death could have been prevented if required safety guards or fall protection had been installed, according to a statement by the Department of Labor.
"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."
Following the incident, OSHA has proposed a fine of $145,027 penalty.
"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."
Dierkes's fiance Jessica Sutter, who had two daughters with him, told The Guardian that Caterpillar did not provide any assistance or support to her and her daughters following her fiance's death.
"My children are left without their father, I am left without my fiancee, my partner, my best friend, all because they didn't want to take better safety precautions for that type of work," Sutter told the outlet.
In a statement to The Guardian, a spokesperson for Caterpillar said they will continue to engage with OSHA to "seek an appropriate resolution."
"We continue to be deeply saddened by the death of an employee who was involved in a serious incident at our Mapleton, Illinois, facility on June 2," The statement to the Guardian said. "Our thoughts remain with this employee's family, friends and colleagues. The safety of our employees, contractors and visitors is our top priority at all Caterpillar locations around the world."
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