Electrician Steve O’Dell, 27, was working at Alpha Natural Resources’ White Buck Pocahontas operation near Rupert, Greenbrier County, on November 30 when he was caught between a battery-powered scoop and the cutting head of a continuous miner.
“The accident occurred on a working section while the electrician was performing maintenance work on the cutting head of the continuous mining machine, which was parked in an entry,” US Mine Health and Safety Administration officials said in their preliminary findings.
O’Dell was transported to hospital for emergency care but died a short time later from his injuries.
Company, state and federal investigations are ongoing.
With pinning accidents among the most prevalent but also the most preventable incident types in the nation’s mines, MSHA has compiled its best practices for mines in an effort to prevent other future similar incidents.
Among the top actions called for by federal officials: miners must be aware of their location in relation to mobile equipment while underground and never position themselves between a stationary object and a vehicle in motion.
If a machine is parked for maintenance, the area should be marked conspicuously with reflective material, flashing lights and other warning signs. This signage should appear on both sides of an entry or crosscut.
MSHA also urged the use of approved translucent or transparent ventilation curtains for better visibility.
It stressed that extraneous material or supplies should never be installed on mobile equipment where it could obstruct visibility.
For those operating mobile equipment, the agency stressed the use of an audible warning, such as a horn blow, when in turns or blind spots, through ventilation curtains and at any time of limited visibility.
Finally, MSHA reminded operators to train all miners on how to establish and use effective communications while working around equipment and to look at the installation of proximity detection systems on all mobile face equipment.
O’Dell’s death was the 18th fatality in US coal this year and the fourth classified as powered haulage.
It is also the sixth in West Virginia in 2012. Half of the state’s deaths since January have occurred at Alpha mines.
The fatal incident was the second death in two years at the White Buck Pocahontas operation.
Another worker was killed there in July 2010.