Summary: An inexperienced worker tripped and fell into a crucible containing molten metal heated to 2,600ºF, but part of his body remained outside the vat before officials could arrive and remove it.
The incident: When Steven Dierkes, a worker at the Caterpillar plant in Mapleton, IL, was asked to carry a sample of iron from a lab to the foundry floor, he didn’t think too much about it. After all, Dierkes had been on the job for less than a week and he wasn’t aware of the significant hazards posed by the large melters in the production area.
However, the routine task took a dramatic turn for the worse while Dierkes was walking past a crucible that contained molten metal heated to 2,600ºF. He tripped and fell into the vat.
The response: Part of Dierkes’s body went into the vat but part of him remained on the deck surrounding the crucible.
By the time emergency responders arrived a short time later, Dierkes was dead. Officials asked employees to move the contents of the crucible to another container to cool. Several hours later, they were able to sort through the materials and find Dierkes’s remains. He was quickly declared dead from thermal annihilation.
The plant was shut down and everyone was sent home. But one staffer pointed out that it must have been ghastly for the folks who saw the incident and then had to endure the sight of half their coworker’s body lying on the deck before the coroner came.
The aftermath: Dierkes, 39, left behind his life partner, Jessica Sutter, and their three daughters.
“He was a hardworking teddy bear of a man with calloused hands and a tender heart,” read his obituary. “He would have done anything for anyone with no expectation of anything in return.”
(From the June 27, 2022, issue of Safety Alert for Supervisors. To start your no-obligation trial subscription to the publication right now, please click here.)