Learning from this year's fatalities: part 2

THE second quarter in US coal mining was marked early on with a death on April 2, and the spotlight later shone on the nation’s first fatal underground incident.
Learning from this year's fatalities: part 2 Learning from this year's fatalities: part 2 Learning from this year's fatalities: part 2 Learning from this year's fatalities: part 2 Learning from this year's fatalities: part 2

Chris Harvie of Datem Moore, right, is welcomed to the company by chief executive John Moore.

Donna Schmidt

The fifth fatality of the year occurred April 2 at the Reed Minerals Town Creek operation in Walker County, Alabama.

A preliminary report from the US Mine Safety and Health Administration revealed 29-year-old rock truck operator Tyson Mayall was pinned between the dump bed of the machine he was operating and a railing outside of the operator’s cab.

“The driver (victim), suspecting an oil leak on the truck, raised the dump bed, exited the operator’s compartment and was standing against the hand railing at the back of the cab,” MSHA said, noting the worker had just six months of mining experience.

“Unaware that the bed was dropping, he was caught in between the railing and the bed.”

MSHA released a fatalgram on Mayall’s death soon after the incident, classifying the death under Powered Haulage. In hopes of preventing similar future injuries and deaths, the agency encouraged mines to block machinery and equipment against motion before performing work, be aware of location when near moving machine parts, and to record any safety defects on equipment and report them to management.

In its final investigative report, MSHA pointed to operator error as the incident’s primary cause.

“The accident occurred because the operator failed to ensure that the dump body of the truck was either in the down position, or blocked against motion while in the raised position, before exiting the operator's compartment,” it said.

The agency ordered the mine develop and implement a safety program for all its truck drivers, reiterating that drivers should never exit vehicle cabs with the engine running or with the dump body raised until proper blocking to prevent motion has been performed.

Six weeks would pass before the sixth US coal fatality would be recorded, and once again it would involve a young worker.

Superintendent and equipment operator Jeremy Stewart, 32, was operating a Caterpillar 773B rock truck at a J&A Mining operation in Kentucky when he traveled over the edge of a spoil dump and fell 63 feet to the base along with the machine. He had 13 years of experience but less than one year working at that specific mine.

“Stewart was in the process of backing the loaded truck to the edge of the spoil dump in order to dump rock hauled from the pit, located approximately 1200 feet away,” MSHA said in its review of the incident, noting it was Stewart’s first load of the shift.

In its best practices fatalgram, the agency encouraged operations to conduct examinations of dump sites at least once per shift and more often as necessary for safety. It also told operators to construct adequate berms at the edges of all elevated dump sites and ensure proper maintenance of them at all times, and to provide hazard training of dump-point hazards.

“The accident occurred because the driver did not maintain full control of the truck while it was in motion, an adequate berm was not provided at the dumping location to prevent overtravel of the truck, steepness of the ramp approaching the end of the dump, limited visibility, and an adequate examination for hazardous conditions at the dump site had not been performed by a certified person,” MSHA concluded in its final investigation report of Stewart’s death.

“It is most likely that a combination of factors, inadequate berm, steepness of the ramp approaching the end of the dump, and limited visibility contributed to the accident.”

The seventh fatality in 2009 was also the first to occur underground. Just a few weeks after Stewart’s fatal incident, the industry was hit by a second Kentucky death, that of a 58-year-old section foreman.

Forty-year mining veteran Wilson Rome Meade was working June 9 at the D&C mine in Harlan County placing a trailer of concrete block at the mine’s number 35 crosscut on the 4 South main between the number 2 and 3 entries in preparation for stopping construction. According to federal investigators, the chain connecting the trailer of the block to the scoop became unattached and the trailer rolled downgrade from 2 entry to 3 entry, pinning the victim against the outby bridge conveyor.

Meade, a section foreman for three of his four decades of experience, had worked at the mine for five years.

The D&C mine is owned by Harrison Hill and extracts bituminous product under a seam height of 54 inches.

According to MSHA statistics, the operation had not had any fatal operator injuries since 1995, and its last non-fatal days lost injury was marked in 2005.

MSHA issued a fatalgram on the incident in late June, outlining that mines need to ensure proper instruction for all employees involved in towing on the proper hardware and equipment and to use only towing hardware that is properly designed for the load.

Additionally, it reminded operations to be aware of the location of all people in the area before moving equipment or supply carriers.

Management shortfalls were cited in MSHA’s final investigation report released in November, finding that the mine lacked a policy relating to towing supply cars.

The agency determined in its root cause analysis that mine management had “failed to have a policy in place to ensure cars were properly coupled to the tow vehicle”, and ordered the mine to develop and implement a written procedure for proper attachments.

“Scoops will be equipped with a properly sized clevis to accept the tongue,” MSHA noted in its investigation.

“Supply cars will be attached to the scoops with no less than a 4-inch wide by 16-inch long by 1-inch thick tow bar coupled with a 1.25-inch diameter pin with a lock, [and] a 0.375-inch high-strength safety chain will also be maintained between the scoop and the supply car.”

The agency said that any trailer at the mine to be towed by a mantrip buggy would be coupled with a 0.625in or greater diameter pin that had a lock and further secured by a 0.25in high-strength safety chain. Additionally, maximum gross vehicle weights for towed units at the mine would be 10,000 pounds for scoops and 5000lb for buggies.

According to MSHA data, D&C had a zero NFDL injury incidence rate for the first quarter of 2009.

The eighth coal death in the nation this year, and the final marked in the second quarter, also occurred underground – at Consol Energy’s Bailey complex, one of America’s top producing mines.

Robert Maust, 54, was the only victim in a June 23 roof fall at the longwall mine’s 4 West section, under development at the time.

According to MSHA, the number 2 entry of 4 West had progressed to about 20ft inby the left crosscut.

“Preliminary reports from the accident team indicate that the victim, a roof bolter on a full face continuous mining machine, was struck by a rock measuring 3 feet by 4 feet by 8 inches that fell from the roof of the inby corner of the No. 2 entry and the crosscut from No. 2 entry to No. 1 entry,” the agency confirmed.

“The team has not been able to ascertain the tasks the victim was performing at the time of the accident but it is believed that it involved setting or repositioning roof jacks.”

The 814-worker Bailey mine had last recorded a fatal operator injury in 2000.

Its NFDL incident rate in 2008 was 2.09 (from 18 NFDL operator and 12 NFDL contractor injuries).

MSHA’s fatalgram on Maust’s death warned operators to be aware of roof conditions and to know and follow the mine’s approved roof control plan. Other recommended accident-prevention techniques include the use of roof bolting machines equipped with an ATRS to install roof supports rather than manually setting roof jacks, and visually inspecting and testing the roof before manually placing any roof support.

Early November brought with it the release of the final investigation for the Bailey mine incident, which outlined missing procedures for roof control as the cause of Maust’s death. Specifically, MSHA found in its root cause analysis that Consol did not have procedures in place to install permanent supports on corners prior to operating inby the area.

It noted that no evidence of bad roof had been recorded and the mine commonly set roof jacks on corners to provide temporary support until permanent supports could be installed.

To rectify the issue, federal officials ordered the Bailey mine to revise its roof control plan to require permanent support installation before working inby corners. The agency did not outline any citations or associated penalties in the report.

The Bailey operation runs two longwall units and eight CMs, producing an average 44,000 raw tons daily on three shifts, seven days a week.