US year in review: August-December fatalities

AUGUST proved to be another quiet month in the nation’s coalfields in terms of fatal accidents but October was eerily reminiscent of an earlier rash of events, with four deaths in a single week.

Donna Schmidt

On October 4, 44-year mining veteran and senior longwall maintenance coordinator Roger King, 62, was killed at Consol Energy’s McElroy operation in northern West Virginia after suffering initially undisclosed head injuries.

A preliminary report issued days later revealed that King was killed while supervising the face conveyor chain installation on a longwall set-up.

“A battery-powered scoop was being used in conjunction with a sheave block and wire rope to pull the top conveyor chain through the pan line toward the tail drive,” the US Mine Safety and Health Administration said.

“The chain became fouled and the victim positioned himself to observe the cause of the problem.

“As the scoop continued to tram, the sheave assembly and wire rope, which were under tension, came loose and propelled forward. The sheave assembly struck the victim.”

The operation was closed after the incident and recommenced operations on October 6.

On October 5 – the day after King’s death – a powered haulage incident took the life of an underground miner at White County Coal’s Pattiki mine in Illinois.

According to investigators, general labourer Robert Smith, 47, was in a cart when the vehicle veered off an underground path and overturned.

Smith was pinned beneath the unit and died from his injuries.

Within hours of the Illinois fatality, another miner died while working at MidAmerican Energy Holding’s Jim Bridger surface operation in Wyoming.

MSHA said 44-year-old dozer operator Mark Stassinos, who had 10 years of mining experience, was operating a Caterpillar D11R bulldozer when the unit plunged over a 160-foot high wall.

After the trio of deaths, MSHA director Joe Main expressed concern – particularly since the group occurred during the US government shutdown.

Main, who called the deaths “troubling”, said it was the first rash of three deaths in that time period since 2002.

Despite his worries, the string of fatalities was not over.

One more miner – the 18th of the year – would be killed on October 11 at Five Star Mining’s Prosperity operation in Petersburg, Pike County, Indiana.

Larry Schwartz, 59, was killed at the operation after being pinned between a shuttle car and the rib on the blind side of the unit in what appeared to be a case of miscommunication.

“The victim proceeded by the car [following a brief conversation with its operator] and walked straight into the next crosscut between entries 7 and 8, thinking that the car driver would turn down entry 7 to go around the pillar,” MSHA said in a preliminary report.

“The victim told the car driver that he was in the clear [but] the car driver did not turn down entry no. 7 as the victim thought but continued forward through the crosscut between entries 7 and 8.

“The shuttle car pinned the victim between the car and the coal rib on the blind side of the shuttle car.”

Not far away in southern Illinois, 36-year-old Dallas Dwaine Travelstead was killed at the longwall of M-Class Mining’s MC No. 1 operation near Akin in Franklin County.

“At about mid-face on the longwall, a large piece of coal rolled over on the victim, causing crushing injuries,” MSHA said of the incident, noting that the piece struck and pinned him against the face side of the pan line.

The coal/rock combination measured approximately 4 feet and 10 ichesn long, by 2ft and 3in wide and up to 24in thick.

The final fatality of the year was recorded at another underground operation, this time Murray Energy’s Century longwall mine in southeastern Ohio.

The machinery incident that killed 32-year-old Ryan Lashley occurred on November 23.

Longwall shieldman Lashley was at the 144 shield on the 2 West longwall section at the time of the incident.

The shearer was mining towards the head when the shield advanced and a hydraulic hose from the pan line to the shield control unit got caught between the pontoon and mine floor.

“The victim actuated the pan line push from a shield control unit and stepped over the hose,” MSHA said in a preliminary report.

“As the pan line pushed forward, it severed the hydraulic hose.”

What the movement also created was a trapping of a portion of the hydraulic hose beneath the pontoon and a 23in section was sticking out from beneath it.

Additionally, the end of the hose nearest the pan line broke at the fitting where it was connected to the valve bank.

“The valve bank discharged fluid at a high pressure, striking the victim [and] causing fatal injuries,” the report said.

The miner had more than five years experience and just over four of those years as a shieldman.

Keep watching ILN for a statistical review of the year’s fatalities at US mines, including some insights into experience, work conditions and other factors.