LIMA, Ohio (AP) _ The company that employed a worker who died when he became trapped in a 250-degree iron foundry furnace was fined two years ago for 22 safety violations at the plant.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration is investigating the death of James Newton, 43, of Lima. Newton was a maintenance worker at the Whemco foundry, about 75 miles south of Toledo in Shawnee Township. He died Sunday.

OSHA Area Director Arnis Anderson said Wednesday the investigation could take two months.

A February 1992 OSHA inspection found 22 safety violations at the plant. They included exposed electrical equipment and insufficient employee training, The Lima News reported Wednesday.

The agency fined Whemco $47,925. The company appealed the fine, which later was reduced to $9,200.

''The company contested the case and a settlement was made,'' Anderson said. He said it was not unusual for fines to be lowered.

Whemco President William Cook said the company has had no previous problems with the furnace where Newton was killed. He said that there have been no safety problems at the plant since the 1992 inspection.

Authorities said Newton tried to claw his way out after becoming trapped inside the furnace. Sections of insulation around the door of the furnace had been ripped away.

Newton had been in the furnace about six hours before employees found his body. The furnace door slid shut accidentally and locked automatically.