Continuous mining machine helper James Falk, 39, was struck by a shuttle car on the No. 6 working section of River View Coal’s River View operation in Union County, Kentucky on October 27, 2010.
“Falk was last seen in the No. 7 entry between crosscuts No. 37 and No. 38, on the inby side of the ventilation curtain, making repairs to the curtain,” the US Mine Safety and Health Administration said in its final investigation report released this week.
Shuttle car operator Justin Butts was hauling coal from the CM to the ratio feeder. He trammed out of the last open crosscut into the No. 7 entry and struck Falk, who was repairing the curtain.
Butts was unaware of the event and discovered Falk on his trip back from the ratio feeder.
Falk was about a mile inby at the time.
“The fatality occurred because of the mine operator's failure to ensure that Falk was task-trained properly to conduct the newly assigned task of miner helper in a safe manner,” MSHA said of the operator, a subsidiary of Alliance Coal.
“This training, at a minimum, if conducted would have included the instruction of safe work procedures, including the importance of communication with mobile equipment operators while performing work duties in the active haulageways.”
Investigators also noted that the shuttle car operator’s vision was limited due to alterations made to the unit’s cab compartment.
“The absence of the instruction of safe work procedures and oversight of Falk's newly assigned activities, combined with the shuttle car operator's obstructed view, resulted in the fatal accident,” the agency said.
To rectify the issues at River View, the operator revised its written safety policy to include a requirement that miners working in active haulageways must first communicate directly with the mobile equipment operators. That communication must be verified with a response, preferably by radio, and any travel in the affected area must be stopped until the work has been completed.
MSHA said the mine’s staff was trained on the new policy before the operation recommenced production, and the operator also developed and implemented a procedure to enhance the information provided on the MSHA 5000-23 training form.
Further, with regards to the cab alterations on the shuttle cars made by the mine, River View was ordered to restore all units at the operation to the original manufacturer’s design.
The room and pillar operation received a 104(a) citation for a violation of 30 CFR Part 48.7(c) for a failure to give effective instruction to the victim regarding safe work procedures for his new miner helper duties.
It also was issued a 104(a) citation for a violation of 30 CFR Part 75.1725(a) because the shuttle car in the incident was not being maintained in a safe operating condition.
“The operator's compartment was altered by metal tubing placed in the metal grating cover of the window area and wooden boards were placed between the canopy and the machine’s frame which further restricted or limited the operator's field of vision from that of the manufacturer's original design,” MSHA said.
Finally, the operation received two 314(b) safeguard notices for violations of 30 CFR Part 75.1403.
The first was issued because the shuttle car operating on the No. 6 working section did not come to a complete stop prior to passing through the check curtains on the section.
The second was issued because no visible warning devices had been installed at work area entrances to warn mobile equipment operators of a person's presence.
The River View mine near Uniontown employs 514 workers, 498 of them underground.
It extracts from the KY No. 9 and KY No. 11 coal seams and produces about 46,500 tons from 16 mechanized mining units on average per day.
A regular safety and health inspection by MSHA was in progress at the time of the accident. The non-fatal days lost (NFDL) incidence rate for the mine in 2009 was 2.33, versus the national NFDL rate of 4.04 for underground mines.