During the night shift on September 3, 2010, 37-year-old John Tittle was operating an empty Komatsu HD785 rigid-frame dump truck down a haul road to the active pit at National Coal of Alabama’s Kansas operation in Walker County when he was unable to avoid an obstacle in the road – the mine’s lead dump truck.
“The lead dump truck had stopped along the haul road, waiting to be loaded,” federal investigators said.
“The victim was pinned in the cab of the truck he was operating and beneath the truck dump body (bed) of the stopped truck.”
Investigators said Tittle received crushing injuries as a result of the accident.
A review of the mine’s pre-operational checks and maintenance log revealed no deficiencies for Tittle’s truck that day, and no issues were reported to the unit in August or September of 2010.
In its root cause analysis of the incident, MSHA pointed to both the operator and the victim for contributory roles.
“The accident occurred because mine management failed to have a program in place to monitor and supervise employee work activity on a routine basis and to assure that employee work was being conducted in a safe manner,” the agency said, noting that, as a result, Tittle failed to react and control his truck to avoid the stopped truck.
“Drowsiness from the effects of a prescription narcotic drug the truck driver used, and a change in the work routine and staging location of the trucks, are contributing factors.”
Investigators identified the narcotic through blood tests as OxyContin, the trade name for oxycodone.
Tittle had a prescription for the medication, issued a few days prior on August 30.
The agency did not indicate in its report the presence of any other drugs in his system.
To rectify the issues surrounding the fatal incident, MSHA ordered the operator to develop and implement a written program that includes mine supervision to monitor employees routinely for the demonstration of proper work habits as well as confirm they are alert while performing their assigned duties.
Mine officials are also to stress the importance of two-way radio communications for interaction between miners, particularly with regards to any change in a routine or an abnormal practice.
Management will also continue to continue to reiterate the importance of vehicle marker and hazard light use at all times.
Federal investigators issued a 104(a) citation to the operator for a violation of 30 CFR, Part 77.1607(b) for failure to maintain full control of mobile equipment while in motion.
The Kansas surface mine in Carbon Hill, which extracts from the Mary Lee and Blue Creek seams, employs 28 hourly and two management employees. It produces about 500 tons daily.
The most recent semi-annual safety and health inspection was completed by MSHA on June 29, 2010.
The mine’s non-fatal days lost injury incidence rate for the previous quarter was zero, versus the national average NFDL rate of 1.11 for surface coal operations.