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Caterpillar foundry worker’s gruesome death blamed on training and working conditions | Illinois

Just nine days into his new job at Caterpillar’s Mapleton foundry, IllinoisStephen Dierkes, 39, a father of three, fell into an 11-foot vat of molten iron and was burned.

Now factory workers are blaming his death on a lack of training, poor security and grueling working conditions, and are threatening to strike the world’s largest construction equipment maker.

Dierks’ death in June was the subject of a US Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) report. earlier this month. The report found that “had the necessary guardrails or fall protection been installed, the 39-year-old employee’s ninth day of work may not have been his last.”

Osho said workers at the Caterpillar foundry are “regularly exposed” to the unprotected fall hazard and proposed a fine of $145,027. The decision doesn’t go far enough for Jessica Sutter, Dierks’ fiancee.

“My kids lost their father, I lost my fiancee, my partner, my best friend, all because they didn’t want to take the best precautions for this kind of work,” Sutter, who had two daughters with Dierkes. , said.

She claimed that Caterpillar did not provide any help or support to her and her daughters. Now she is trying to find a side job to save money to find a new place to live with her children because her landlord won’t make the necessary repairs to her house. She said they were already hurting financially because Dierks was out of work for two months before starting at Caterpillar.

Sutter criticized Caterpillar for putting her fiance in a dangerous position without adequate protection.

“As for Caterpillar, I feel like they are killers. It’s a slaughterhouse. No one should lose their life this way,” she said. “They have no sympathy for human decency at all, they have no humanity.”

Past and present workers at the foundry have also expressed safety concerns. One former Mapleton foundry employee, who spoke on the condition of anonymity for fear of retaliation from potential employers, quit in late 2021 because of unsafe working conditions.

“You’re breathing smoke and dust six or seven days a week,” said a former employee. “Every time we raised a security issue there, there was no concern. More often than not, these were either ignored, or fixing them created a whole new security problem or multiple problems.”

A current foundry employee, who also spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of retaliation, detailed the working conditions and lack of safety precautions that contributed to Dierkes’ death. More than 800 workers work at a foundry.

The foundry is divided into two sides by a “wall,” a term used by workers to describe the separation of environments and types of work. Processing takes place on one side of the wall, and iron melting – on the other.

Dierkes was working as a melting deck operator and fell into the melting furnace while trying to retrieve a sample.

“When he died, we were only let off work for two days and then we were all told to come back. The air literally still smelled of his burning body,” the worker said. “There were no fences, harness procedures and nothing to ensure you didn’t fall into huge holes filled with iron. When he was collecting a sample of iron with a spoon, he fell and was shaken.’

“I am very surprised that this happened for the first time. When I was working there, many times I thought, “Man, are they really going to make me do this?” For example, if the iron level was low, they wanted you to try to get a sample or temperature anyway, which would require you to bend a little over the hole to reach the iron. The temperature of the smelters is always around 2400-2600F, so if you fall into one, you have zero chance of survival.’

The worker also claimed that the process of pressing out the iron was unsafe, the cranes used to move the iron were also a safety hazard, and there was a significant risk of being burned by splashes while working in excessive heat.

“In the summer, the melting point reaches 120F. You’re expected to wear a full long sleeve to protect you from the iron, but the fireproof clothing you wear doesn’t protect you from anything – the iron burns right through,” the worker added.

“It’s hard to breathe because of the heat, and I’m always sweating. In the summer, they have heat advisory days when security hands out water bottles. But it doesn’t matter how much water you drink there, you lose so much sweat that you almost always feel dirty when you leave work, and your ears and nose are filled with black soot every day, and it obviously gets into your lungs.” .

The worker also claimed that Caterpillar did nothing for Dierkes’ family and that co-workers tried to raise money for the family on their own after the incident. They noted that the money Osho proposed to fine Caterpillar for the safety violations would not go to the Dierkes family.

Another worker, 50-year-old contractor Scott Adams, died at the foundry in 2021. Osha blamed the contractors he worked on Caterpillar’s premises for failing to protect him from falling.

In 2020, the latest year of data available from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 4764 workers in the USA was fatally injured at the workplace. But the AFL-CIO, the largest union federation in the United States, calls such a number greatly underestimated the real problem is the lack of funding for regulatory oversight.

Workers at the foundry are represented by the United Auto Workers, and the employee said workers are now being asked to train replacements in anticipation of a possible strike in March 2023 when the current union contract expires.

Caterpillar declined to comment on the deaths of Dierks and Adams or on workers’ statements that they are being asked to train possible replacements.

A Caterpillar spokesperson said in an email: “We continue to be deeply saddened by the death of an employee who was involved in a serious incident at our facility in Mapleton, Illinois on June 2. Our thoughts remain with the family, friends and friends of this fellow employee. The safety of our employees, contractors and visitors is our top priority at all Caterpillar facilities around the world. Regarding the serious security incident that occurred, we will continue to engage with Osha to find an appropriate solution to address it.”


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