Iron worker Fred Benally, 54, was working at a structure associated with the West Elk mine’s idled preparation facility in Gunnison County when he fell about eight feet from a steel beam.
“[Benally] hit a lower cross beam before he landed on a conveyor belt cover located about 32 inches below the cross beam,” the agency said.
“The victim had been engaged in cutting operations just prior to the fall, and was repositioning when he removed his lanyard tie-off safety device from the location where it was secured.”
To help prevent future similar incidents at other US operations, MSHA has compiled best practices for miners, including complete training on an understanding of restraint devices and secure footing in all work areas.
It said operators should provide self-retracting lanyard mechanisms, while workers should routinely inspect tools and personal equipment for wear and defects and replace as needed.
MSHA also recommends mines conduct risk assessments of work areas prior to beginning tasks using the SLAM system of stop, look, analyze and manage to identify all possible hazards.
Finally, officials said that wearing and using fall protection that maintains 100% tie-off is essential in areas where fall hazards exist. Regulators have developed an accident prevention page on the topic at http://www.msha.gov/Accident_Prevention/innovativeproducts/2009/TieOff.asp.
Federal officials encourage anyone with additional prevention ideas to submit them through its web site, including the year of the fatality and the fatality number.
The worker’s death is the sixth in the industry in the 2011 calendar year and the first classified by MSHA under “slip or fall of person”. The fatality was also the first in the state of Colorado since 2007.
The West Elk longwall mine in Somerset, which produces bituminous coal, is operated by Arch subsidiary Mountain Coal.
According to federal data, the mine produced more than 4.79 million tons of coal in 2007, when it recorded four operator non-fatal days lost injuries and four contractor NFDL injuries.