US coal accident review: part 1

MANY high-profile accidents involving injuries have been recorded in 2009, with the eastern US coalfields hit especially hard. An ILN review of some of these incidents has found that, while causes varied, a significant number involved machinery and pinch points.
US coal accident review: part 1 US coal accident review: part 1 US coal accident review: part 1 US coal accident review: part 1 US coal accident review: part 1

The Pattiki mine, Indiana.

Donna Schmidt

In late January, an unidentified worker was caught between a continuous miner and the coal rib at Ten Mile Coal’s Sycamore No. 2 operation in Harrison County, West Virginia, suffering multiple fractures to both legs. State officials said the injuries were not life-threatening and immediately commenced an investigation into the cause.

The incident occurred just weeks after two miners received injuries in two separate incidents at Eastern Associated Coal’s Federal No. 2 mine on the same day. The identities of the individuals were never revealed by state or federal officials, but investigators confirmed that one received ankle and head injuries after a roof fall and the other sustained injuries when he was caught between a roof bolter and the rib.

Equipment would be involved in an April incident at White County Coal’s Pattiki operation, when a golf cart overturned underground and struck the rib, injuring three workers.

“Two of the miners were temporarily pinned by the overturned golf cart,” US Mine Safety and Health Administration spokesperson Amy Louviere told ILN at the time, confirming that the most serious injuries included cracked ribs and a broken ankle.

White County Coal is a subsidiary of Alliance Resource Partners. In 2008, Pattiki recorded 14 non-fatal days lost operator injuries on more than 764,000 hours worked, according to MSHA statistics.

In late June, a single-injury incident at Speed Mining’s American Eagle closed the operation while an investigation was completed.

MSHA confirmed the individual was an electrician who was struck by a shuttlecar and received injuries to his pelvic area. Local media later identified the worker as 28-year-old Jason O’Neal.

American Eagle, which produced 2.32 million tons in 2008 on 435,000 hours worked, is owned by Patriot Coal. The mine’s NFDL rate that year was 0.92, much below the 2008 national average of 4.25.

An incident just days later in southern West Virginia did not involve equipment or pinch point issues, but did leave eight miners with burn injuries.

According to MSHA, the group was performing self-contained self-rescuer expectations training at Mountain Edge Mining’s Dorothy No. 3 operation June 27 and received lip burns after using CSE training canisters that contained potassium superoxide (KO2). The agency and CSE subsequently discovered that the new trainers had been stored in a common bag with units that had already been used.

The canisters in question were returned to MSHA’s Technical Support division for evaluation, which was completed with the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health on July 1.

“KO2 residue was detected on the outside and on the mouthpieces of the training units,” Louviere told ILN, adding that the incident appeared to be isolated.

“MSHA has concluded that the miners who experienced problems used training units that were contaminated on the exterior with KO2, probably from a used unit or units.

“Twenty other miners had successfully used the same type of units earlier that day with no mishaps.”

A new CSE unit was subsequently tested that bore the same manufacture date as the units in question and no KO2 was detected on the mouthpiece or outside canister.

ILN secured a copy of CSE’s letter to MSHA shortly after the incident, which noted that the supplier had launched an internal investigation into the incident, and it reiterated the problems arising from storing the equipment in a common bag and said that all mines must carefully review the unit’s manual and instructions before use.

“Simulations must be done with great care and proper information,” CSE president Scott Shearer said.

“The chemicals in the SR-MP are rated as hazardous material, which are potentially dangerous and must be handled and disposed of properly to prevent injury.”

CSE has an exchange plan in the works so that units in circulation with KO2 can be switched with Sodasorb canisters.

“CSE will keep MSHA and NIOSH informed of any additional information it obtains in its investigation and will provide the agencies with an opportunity to review the users’ notice before it is issued,” Shearer noted in the communication.

“CSE believes that re-education and product modifications can minimise the risk to miners of injuries of this type created when units are not used in the proper environment and mishandled following training.”

A pair of incidents left another large group of workers injured in mid-July, and once again equipment was involved in both.

On July 9 at 4pm local time, an underground incident at KenAmerican Resources’ Paradise mine injured eight when a mantrip travelling down the slope crashed.

“One miner suffered a compound fracture of the leg. A second miner complained of lower back and abdominal pain,” an MSHA representative told ILN.

The workers hurt in the Muhlenberg County accident were:

Robby Turner, 22, roof bolter operator, one year experience,

John Wooten, 28, roof bolter operator, four months,

James Arnold, 23, roof bolter operator, 1.5 years,

William Alloway, 25, mechanic, two months,

Robert Willett, 23, utility man, five months,

David Miller, 29, roof bolter operator, 11 months,

Donald Pearson, 25, scoop operator, 15 months, and

Blake Stewart, 22, scoop operator, one year.

MSHA issued a 103k closure order to idle operations pending an investigation of the scene and vehicle. All the mine’s mantrips were evaluated before mining recommenced.

A few days later, state industry officials told ILN that the injuries received by the group at the Murray Energy operation were more severe than initially reported.

Kentucky Office of Communication and Public Outreach executive director Dick Brown confirmed that the state’s office of Mine Licensing and Safety provided it with a list of injuries that included a broken pelvis, bruised ribs, sutures to a worker’s right side, a compound lower right leg fracture, a fractured right knee cap and a broken sacrum/pelvis.

While the office did not offer any other details, one miner’s relative told a local television station just after the incident that the personnel carrier he was riding in was travelling at about 70 miles per hour and on a 7-degree slope when it crashed. His son-in-law, Pearson, had returned to the emergency room of a local hospital twice as of that time for neurological issues as well as sustained shoulder and knee damage.

A spokesperson for KenAmerican and parent company Murray Energy told ILN after the state report that the mine had restarted production, but issued no further comment about the injuries or a response to the state’s claim.

A second incident, also marked July 9, involved Harold Skaggs, 51, and Frank McCoart at the Frasure Creek Mining complex. Both of the Kentucky miners were struck by an unoccupied truck.

“At about 2am, a foreman was delivering parts to a drill and was injured when he got out of his [Ford F100] truck and the truck struck him,” MSHA told ILN.

“The truck also injured the drill operator,” the agency said, adding that the foreman was admitted to a medical facility in critical condition and the drill operator had received back and head injuries. Both individuals were employees of Austin Powder.

While Frasure Creek officials could not be located for comment at the time and never released any public statement on the incident, the state’s Office of Mine Safety and Licensing told local media outlets that the 78-worker mine had been cited 13 non-compliance orders and seven more serious closure violations as of that point in 2009.

"The closures generally would be for problems with a piece of equipment. That equipment would be put out of service until repaired and re-inspected," the state office said.

Office spokesperson Dick Brown added that its investigators still did not know why the truck rolled down the gravel haul road at the operations, but that the cause of the accident was "failure of a mechanical foot brake on the vehicle".

Analysis of the remainder of the year will be published tomorrow.

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