US coal accident review: part 2

ILN’s analysis of major injuries in the US coalfields continues, with a look at the high-profile accidents in the second half of the year.
US coal accident review: part 2 US coal accident review: part 2 US coal accident review: part 2 US coal accident review: part 2 US coal accident review: part 2

 

Donna Schmidt

July proved to be a hazardous month for US coal. Before the month was out, three more workers were hurt when a coal train derailed at the Black Bear preparation plant loadout facility in West Virginia, taking the loading building with it.

West Virginia Office of Miners’ Health, Safety and Training spokesperson Jama Jarrett told ILN that Norfolk Southern employee RA Saunders was released from a medical facility after evaluation, as was Cobra Natural Resources worker Billy Newsome. Cobra employee Eugene Harris was treated for his unspecified injuries and later released.

Cobra Natural Resources, which manages the Black Bear facility’s operations, is a subsidiary of Alpha Natural Resources.

The three workers were injured after five empty coal cars derailed under the building and hit supports, which caused the structure to collapse. The cars were being shunted into position for loading at the time.

Just over a week later on August 6, a worker was injured in a rib roll at the North Fork No. 5 mine in Kentucky.

According to MSHA, the accident happened at about 10.30pm local time, but the call center report shows that mine officials did not call the MSHA accident reporting line until about an hour later – long after the federally mandated 15 minutes.

The mine foreman suffered broken ribs and a punctured lung, and was released a few days after being admitted to a local hospital.

North Fork Coal’s No. 5, controlled by Richard Gilliam, reported three non-fatal days lost operator injuries in 2008, when it produced just over 381,000 tons of coal in 127,000 hours worked, ending the year with an NFDL rate of 4.72.

Shortly after the rib roll in Kentucky, a miner in Illinois suffered burns when the bulldozer he was operating at the surface caught fire.

Neither MSHA nor the operator commented on the incident or released details of the event or the worker’s condition. MSHA did confirm that a federal investigation would be carried out, as would a state investigation and internal reviews.

Before August wrapped, two workers would be injured in a longwall accident at Murray Energy’s Century mine in southeast Ohio.

On August 19, a section supervisor and longwall utility man were both on Century’s longwall section when a high-pressure hydraulic hose ruptured.

“The section supervisor was struck in the face, resulting in minor lacerations, [and] the utility man was struck in the abdominal area,” MSHA spokesperson Amy Louviere told ILN, adding that the force of the break shoved the utility man and caused him to fall and fracture his arm.

While both were treated for their injuries, the agency confirmed that neither lost work time from the incident.

Another single injury was reported in a roof fall before the US Labor Day holiday, after an unidentified miner at White Buck Coal’s Grassy Creek No. 1 complex was struck by roof rock coal.

“He was complaining of neck and shoulder pain and was taken to the fire department,” West Virginia state industry officials said, adding that the injury was not life-threatening though the worker likely had two broken neck bones.

White Buck Coal is a subsidiary of Massey Energy.

In late October, one person died and two workers were injured in an accident in West Virginia.

“At approximately 7am [local time], a hoist rope on a slope car broke at the Newtown Energy Eagle mine,” MSHA spokesperson Diana Petterson told ILN at the time.

“One miner, age 53, located at the slope bottom, was struck by the hoist car, causing fatal injuries [and] two other miners riding in the slope car when the hoist rope broke were also injured,” she said, adding that the slope car was being hoisted out of the mine at the time of the accident.

WVOMHST spokesperson Jarrett confirmed the killed worker was Charles Dixon, a 25-year mining veteran and six-year Eagle mine employee.

The injured miners were Daniel Ewing and Dave Morgan. One received minor shoulder and facial injuries while the other suffered minor head injuries, Jarrett said.

The Newtown Energy Eagle operation in Kanawha County, controlled by Robert Ellis, employs about 220 people and produces about 1 million tons of coal annually.

According to federal data, the mine has recorded 13 NFDL operator injuries and one contractor injury in MSHA’s second quarter of 2009.

In 2008, the mine reported 14 NFDL operator injuries and three NFDL contractor injuries on just over 449,000 hours worked. In fact, its total violation assessment bill to MSHA last year was $US1.64 million on 554 type 104(a) citations and more than two dozen other various orders.

With the approach of the holiday season, US coal would suffer yet another mine accident that left one dead and several others injured. This final high-profile event (as of press time) was recorded at Jim Walter Resources’ No. 7 underground operation in Alabama.

The operator confirmed that two of its employees had been conducting a routine weekly inspection of a non-producing section the early morning of November 24 when a scheduled check-in point was missed. Additional personnel went to investigate the inspection area.

“When the miners were located, one was found to be responsive and the other unresponsive,” JWR said.

The responsive miner was safely evacuated, but several members of the evacuation team exhibited signs of heat stress and were taken to the hospital as a precaution.

Louviere told ILN that the first two workers were walking in a bleeder at the time of the incident and that a foreman sent to investigate had found both workers but was forced to retreat due to low oxygen.

“The first miner had no vital signs and the second miner was alive, but breathing with difficulty,” she said, noting that the second miner was taken to a medical center.

A total of eight miners were treated for heat exhaustion. All returned to work when the mine resumed production a few days later.

“The area of the mine under investigation is a non-production area of the mine and has been roped off pending the conclusion of the investigation,” a JWR spokesperson said at the time of the incident. All investigations are still pending and no definitive cause for the incident had been released as of this week.

“Initial media reports, citing MSHA, blamed lack of oxygen as the cause of death. While this has not been ruled out, we believe it is premature to speculate on the cause of death until the investigation is complete.”

Jim Walter Resources employs 1400 staff. As of September 30, the No. 7 mine had produced 2.6Mt via a longwall and active continuous mining sections.

JWR’s sister operations, No. 4 and No. 7, are considered the deepest vertical shaft mines in North America with overburden ranging between 1500 and 2200 feet. Both extract from the rich Blue Creek seam.

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