Death throws MSHA spotlight on maintenance safety

SAFE maintenance practices are being stressed after a worker was killed in a machinery accident while performing work on a bulldozer last month.
Death throws MSHA spotlight on maintenance safety Death throws MSHA spotlight on maintenance safety Death throws MSHA spotlight on maintenance safety Death throws MSHA spotlight on maintenance safety Death throws MSHA spotlight on maintenance safety


Donna Schmidt

In its preliminary investigation fatalgram, the US Mine Safety and Health Administration said Jerry Watts was removing a damaged wear plate from the center portion of a dozer's blade at T&T Energy’s Begley No 1 operation in Leslie County when the hydraulic jack he was using slipped.

“The victim was using an air chisel between the wear plate and the blade … the hydraulic jack slipped while the victim was using the air chisel and he was crushed between the blade and the damaged wear plate,” investigators said.

In an effort to prevent further deaths, MSHA issued a collection of best practices for mines, including proper task training on specialized work and never using a hydraulic jack as the only tool for supporting large objects, massive weights, or objects that had the potential for the release of stored energy.

The agency also urged operations to ensure power was off to the equipment being maintained and that it was also blocked against motion prior to performing maintenance.

Other best practices include:

  • Devising safe methods to complete tasks involving large objects, massive weights, or where the release of stored energy is a possibility
  • Avoiding metal-to-metal contact because it slides much easier than wood or other materials against metal
  • Ensuring all contact areas where jacks or other blocking materials are to be installed are free from grease or other substances to decrease the likelihood of shifting and sliding
  • Ensuring there is sufficient space around equipment to enable work to be performed safely
  • Consulting and following the manufacturer's recommended safe work procedures for the maintenance task and monitor work to ensure procedures are followed
  • Ensure contractors have safe work procedures in place for the specific task and machine
  • Consider all hazards before performing any job and implement formal procedures that address possible hazards.

Watts’ death was the first fatality reported during calendar year 2013 in the coal mining industry. MSHA has classified it as a machinery death.

According to federal data, T&T Energy’s bituminous complex produced 244,675 tons of coal in 2012 in about 91,000 man hours.

No operator or contractor injuries or fatalities were reported for that year.

Of the 19 coal deaths reported in the US in 2012, four were recorded in Kentucky.

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