STERLING – A spokesman for the Occupational Safety and Health Administration confirmed this week that the agency is investigating an accident at a local steel mill that left a longtime worker badly injured.
Scott Allen said OSHA investigators have 6 months to complete their investigation into the accident at Sterling Steel Co., 101 Avenue K, on Feb. 20 that left Evan Diedrich, 55, of Sterling, badly burned.
Neither Allen nor Sterling Steel officials have said how the accident happened, citing the ongoing investigation.
Diedrich’s friend, Dave Tackett of Sterling, said he believes what happened was a “freak accident” that could not have been avoided.
Diedrich was in serious condition Friday at OSF Saint Anthony Medical Center in Rockford.
Sterling firefighters and CGH Ambulance were called to the mill about 5 a.m. Feb. 20 after receiving a report of a man stuck in a crane.
When firefighters arrived, Diedrich was outside the building, according to fire officials.
Diedrich was taken to CGH Medical Center and later airlifted to OSF.
Tackett said Diedrich has worked at the mill for more than 30 years and is a ladle crane operator.
Tackett said he was not there the day of the accident, but heard about it from family and other mill workers.
The company, owned by Carthage, Mo.-based Leggett & Platt, specializes in making rods.
Diedrich works in the mill’s melt shop.
Tackett, who used to work at the mill, said that after the steel is melted in a furnace, it is then poured into a large rectangular ladle, which he estimated is about the size of a small bus but is not as tall.
There are knobs on the end of the ladle which a crane can hook into on each side. A crane then takes the ladle and pours the hot steel into a caster to form the rods, Tackett said.
As Diedrich was carrying the ladle from the furnace to the caster, it appears that a shaft on the crane broke, which snapped a cable and caused the ladle to hit the door on the cab of the crane, Tackett said.
Heat from the spilled steel burned Diedrich, he said.
Other mill workers rescued Diedrich from the crane, which still was in operation, Tackett said.
President and General Manager Andy Moore said he could not confirm Tackett’s account of what happened, but said officials are investigating “those items.”
“At this point, we don’t know the entirety of the sequence of events, so I can’t speculate on what happened,” Moore said.
Moore added that the company is working with OSHA to find out what happened.
Moore called Diedrich an excellent employee.
“Our thoughts are with the family during this difficult time,” Moore said.
Moore said the mill employs 270 people.
Moore said a union representative was available for workers who needed to talk. Employees also are taking collections for Diedrich’s family and seeking other ways to help while he recovers, Moore said.