Dept. of Labor's Response to Worker Who Fell into Molten Iron Sparks Anger

Social media users have responded with anger after the Department of Labor slapped Caterpillar Inc. with a fine of just $145,027 on Wednesday, following an investigation that found the life of an employee could have been saved had the "required safety protections" been in place.

On June 2, a 39-year-old melting specialist died at a Caterpillar-owned foundry in Mapleton, Illinois, after falling into an "11-foot-deep" pot of molten iron that had been heated to over 2,000 degrees Fahrenheit.

An investigation by the Labor Department's Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) found the foundry "routinely exposed employees to unprotected fall hazards," while they worked.

Siempelkamp Giesserei iron casting foundry in Germany
Workers prepare to pour ductile iron casting molten iron into a mold at the Siempelkamp Giesserei foundry on April 21, 2022, in Krefeld, Germany. Caterpillar Inc. has been fined after a worker died at one of its foundries. GETTY/Sascha Schuermann

OSHA Regional Administrator Bill Donovan said in a statement: "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.

"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."

The worker, who was on their ninth day on the job, fell into the molten pot whilst trying to remove some iron from a furnace.

Under federal law, to prevent workers from falling into dangerous equipment, employers are required to "install guardrails and restraint systems," or find some other way to "eliminate the hazard."

More than 800 workers are employed at the site producing engine components for Caterpillar, which it says is the "world's leading manufacturer of construction and mining equipment."

Christine Zortman, the OSHA area director in Peoria, said: "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.

"We implore employers to review the agency-specific regulations to protect workers from falls into equipment in industrial settings."

The size of the fine levied by the OSHA sparked anger, with Chicago Tribune TV and film critic Nina Metz calling it "shameful."

One Twitter user wrote: "A worker at a foundry in Illinois died after falling into molten iron, but if the required safety guards were installed, they'd still be alive. The foundry is owned by Caterpillar, one of the largest companies in the world. The proposed penalty is only $145k."

Speaking to Newsweek, a spokesperson for Caterpillar Inc. said: "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.

"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.

"Regarding the serious safety incident that occurred, we will continue to engage with OSHA to seek an appropriate resolution to its review."

In March, two construction workers were killed when a concrete wall collapsed on top of them in Boynton Beach, Florida.

The same month saw a man in Florida crushed to death by a bulldozer, whilst using a porta-potty.

In January, the life of a man in Maine—who was found carrying his own severed arm around after a suspected industrial accident—was saved by two public sector workers who successfully applied a tourniquet.