Illinois foundry worker dies after falling into crucible filled with 2,600F molten iron


Illinois foundry worker dies after falling into crucible filled with 2,600F molten iron: Employee had only ‘worked at the plant for five days’

  • Steven Dierkes, 39, fell to his death on June 2 at a Caterpillar Mapleton Foundry
  • ‘He was taking a sample of iron for the met lab and apparently just tripped,’ an anonymous veteran factory worker said
  • ‘He died instantly, but not all of him went in,’ the source added. ‘Part of his body remained on the deck for the coroner to retrieve’
  • Foul play has been ruled and an investigation led by the Occupational Safety and Healthy Administration is underway
  • Dierkes was only on the fifth day on the job and hadn’t received ‘sufficient training’ to be in the melting area, another factory worker said
  • His death is the second registered within the last six months after another worker fell to his death off a ladder in December 

An Illinois foundry worker died when he accidentally fell into a 2,600-degrees Fahrenheit molten iron crucible, burning half of his body while the other half dropped on the factory floor.

Steven Dierkes, 39, was only on the fifth day of his new job on June 2 at Caterpillar Mapleton Foundry in Peoria County when ‘he was taking a sample of iron for the met lab and apparently just tripped’, an anonymous veteran factory worker identified as ‘Ron’ told World Socialist Web Site (WSWS).

‘He died instantly, but not all of him went in,’ the source added. ‘Part of his body remained on the deck for the coroner to retrieve. It must have been ghastly for those folks that witnessed it and to wait for the coroner with half of their coworker lying on the floor.’

Steven Dierkes, 39 and of Peoria, Illinois, died on Thursday morning after being incinerated by a 2,600-degrees Fahrenheit molten iron crucible that he accidently fell into

Steven Dierkes, 39 and of Peoria, Illinois, died on Thursday morning after being incinerated by a 2,600-degrees Fahrenheit molten iron crucible that he accidently fell into

The victim was only on the fifth day of his new job at Caterpillar Mapleton Foundry, described as 'one of the largest in the United States' (file image)

The victim was only on the fifth day of his new job at Caterpillar Mapleton Foundry, described as ‘one of the largest in the United States’ (file image)

Peoria County Coroner Jamie Harwood said that foul play has been ruled out and that an investigation led by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), the county’s coroner office and sheriff’s office is ongoing, the Peoria Journal Star reports.

Local authorities were called to the facility at around 10 a.m. on Thursday after an ‘occupational accident’ had been reported, Peoria County Sheriff’s Office Captain Chris Watkins said. An online obituary for Dierkes revealed that the father-of-three died at 9.23 a.m. – nearly half an hour before deputies arrived at the scene of the incident. 

‘We are deeply saddened by the death of an employee who was involved in a serious incident at our Maple, Illinois, facility on June 2,’ Caterpillar spokeswoman Lisa Miller released in a statement obtained by WSWS. ‘Our thoughts are with this employee’s family, friends and colleagues. The safety of our employees, contractors and visitors is our top priority.’

The Mapleton Foundry is one of the largest in the United States, according to its website. ‘It can melt up to 1,000 tons of iron each day to produce finished castings ranging from 15lb liners to 22,000lb cylinder blocks. These components are the foundation for the company’s 115-6,600hp (86- 4,920 kW) engine platforms.’

Ron, who claims to not have been around the main foundry melting area ‘in years,’ said Dierkes died on ‘one of the largest melters in the main foundry melting area.’

‘Our melting area is physically connected but operationally independent. Word spread fast and people were gathering trying to find out what happened,’ he told WSWS, adding that he was unable to describe conditions in that specific area of the factory. 

‘I don’t know what time it happened but by 10:20 a.m. the entire facility was sent home. I received a text from my boss early evening last night that we were not to return to work until Monday. Presumably the company would have their whitewash mixed by then,’ he further said.

Another factory worker told WSWS that Dierkes was only on his fifth day on the job when the incident occurred and that he hadn’t received ‘sufficient training’ to be in the melting area.

A childhood friend of the victim later shared on Facebook: ‘Steven Dierkes lived down the street from me when we were kids, so we naturally grew up together. We were into professional wrestling, so every Friday night, we’d get together with Tim Cyrulik and Johnathan Cox and we’d try wrestling moves on each other. Then, we’d play video games all night.

‘RIP, buddy,’ he added.

A childhood friend  of Dierkes grieved the victim's death on social media, signing off his post with: 'RIP, buddy.'

A childhood friend  of Dierkes grieved the victim’s death on social media, signing off his post with: ‘RIP, buddy.’

Half of Dierkes' body was burnt in the iron melter while the other half dropped to the factory's floor in a death described as 'ghastly' by one veteran factory worker

Half of Dierkes’ body was burnt in the iron melter while the other half dropped to the factory’s floor in a death described as ‘ghastly’ by one veteran factory worker

The United Auto Workers (UAW) union, which represent several of the foundry’s workers, later announced Dierkes’ death, saying: ‘Local 974 lost one of our members this morning in a tragic accident at our Mapleton facility. He and his family are in all of our thoughts and prayers.’

An obituary made public online reveals that a service celebrating Dierkes’ life will be held in Bloomington on June 9.

Dierkes leaves behind three daughters and his ‘life partner and best friend’, Jessica Sutter. He is also survived by his parents, sister and two brothers. 

‘Steven loved the outdoors and all animals. He was a loving person who enjoyed laughter from any source he could find,’ the victim’s obituary read. 

‘He was a hard-working teddy bear of a man with calloused hands and a tender heart. He would have done anything for anyone with no expectation of anything in return. He would have given a stranger the shirt from his back even though that may have been his last shirt,’ it further read. 

Dierkes pictured with his significant other Jessie Sutter. The father-of-three is survived by his daughters, his wife, parents and siblings

Dierkes pictured with his significant other Jessie Sutter. The father-of-three is survived by his daughters, his wife, parents and siblings

Dierkes' death is the second fatal incident at the Caterpillar Inc plant in Mapleton, Illinois (shown) in less than six months after another factory worker fell to his death in December

Dierkes’ death is the second fatal incident at the Caterpillar Inc plant in Mapleton, Illinois (shown) in less than six months after another factory worker fell to his death in December

'He was a hard-working teddy bear of a man with calloused hands and a tender heart. He would have done anything for anyone with no expectation of anything in return. He would have given a stranger the shirt from his back even though that may have been his last shirt,' an obituary for Dierkes read

‘He was a hard-working teddy bear of a man with calloused hands and a tender heart. He would have done anything for anyone with no expectation of anything in return. He would have given a stranger the shirt from his back even though that may have been his last shirt,’ an obituary for Dierkes read

Dierkes’ death comes six months after a contractor working at the Caterpillar Inc foundry fell to his death when he apparently stepped off a ladder at the plant, authorities said. 

Scott M. Adams, 50, of East Peoria, was pronounced dead on December 23 after his fall. He was working as a contractor at the foundry from Schaefer Electric in Peoria, according to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration. 

The governmental agency’s preliminary investigation revealed that Adams stepped off a ladder before falling 20 feet (6.1 meters) to his death through a hole in the floor.

The deaths of the two plant workers within the last year are the third in over 30 years since Ron first started working there. 

‘They dropped a 10-ton hook and block from an overhead gantry crane on a man during the strike,’ he told WSWS of the factory’s first death, which reportedly took place in the 1990s although it remains unclear.

Safety and health violations have been flagged at the Caterpillar foundry in the last 30 years, according to WSWS. There was a strike at the factory held by employees between 1991-1992 and another 17-month strike in 1994-1995.

The Caterpillar Mapleton facility was recently fined $5,750 in 2020 for a safety violation in relation to ‘fall protection systems and falling objects.’ 

The foundry was also fined several thousands of dollars on multiple occasions in 2019 and in 2017. 

Source

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