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Caterpillar plant with two fatal falls in the past 6 months has faced numerous OSHA violations

The Caterpillar facility in Mapleton where an employee fell to his death Thursday has faced numerous OSHA violations related to unsafe working conditions — and was the site of a second fatal fall less than six months ago.

Steven Dierkes, 39, of Peoria, was apparently working near a crucible at Mapleton on Thursday when he accidentally fell inside and died instantly, authorities said. No foul play is suspected, but the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and local authorities are investigating.

It’s the second fatal fall at the Mapleton site in less than six months. Scott M. Adams, a 50-year-old electrical contractor from East Peoria, fell to his death at the foundry on Dec. 23, 2021. That happened when three contractors were installing new equipment at the foundry. One of the contractors created a floor opening, and Adams fell through a covering over that opening, OSHA said.

OSHA is still investigating Adams' death. OSHA says it has up to six months to complete its investigation, issue citations and propose penalties, if violations of workplace safety and/or health regulations are found during the investigation.

"Any incidents in the workplace that result in worker injuries or near-misses, should cause a company to re-evaluate it safety and health programs, training and procedures to ensure they are meeting their legal obligation to protect workers on the job," an OSHA spokesperson said Friday.

Those fatal incidents weren’t the first time Caterpillar faced OSHA scrutiny over fall risks in Mapleton.

Caterpillar’s Mapleton site faced a $5,750 fine from OSHA after a July 2020 complaint turned up a violation related to “fall protection systems and falling object protection,” according to OSHA’s online violation database.

A year earlier, in May 2019, Caterpillar faced a complaint that yielded three OSHA violations and $17,712 in fines. One of the violations related to “fall protection and falling object protection,” records show.

WCBU has filed a Freedom of Information Act request with OSHA to learn more about the details of the 2019 and 2020 incidents.

More recently, OSHA was referred a report of an injury at the Mapleton foundry on Feb. 28, 2022, records show. That inquiry remains pending.

A Caterpillar spokesperson did not immediately respond to WCBU requests for comment Friday about Mapleton’s safety record. In a statement issued Thursday after Dierkes’ death, the spokesperson said the company was “deeply saddened” by the man’s death.

“Our thoughts are with this employee’s family, friends and colleagues. The safety of our employees, contractors and visitors is our top priority,” the statement read.

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Contact Ryan at rmdenha@ilstu.edu or (309) 438-5426.