Managerial oversight in roof support fatality

US Mine Safety and Health Administration investigations have revealed management oversight of safe roof bolting practices partly contributed to a mine worker’s death in Virginia, in July last year.

Donna Schmidt

Elden Todd Matthews, 44, a mining industry worker for 22 years, was working at Consol Energy’s Buchanan No. 1 operation on July 25 and marking roof bolt locations between an automated temporary roof support (ATRS) and the operator’s canopy when part of the mine roof fell.

“The victim was installing roof support with the left side of a Fletcher dual-head roof bolting machine in the 3 Right crosscut on the 004-0 Mechanized Mining Unit (MMU), located on 12 Right panel off of 3 East Mains,” the agency noted.

“The falling rock struck the victim, forcing him into the inby edge of the operator's canopy, resulting in fatal head trauma.”

MSHA found there was a roof anomaly (slickensided slip) but that the issue had not been detected in an examination prior to bolting in the 3 Right crosscut and, as a result, the slip fell without warning.

The agency also found the placement of the ATRS canopy contributed to the accident, as it was positioned 20 inches below the mine roof.

MSHA’s key finding was inadequate oversight by management to safe roof bolting operations.

As a consequence the mine has revised its Safe Workplace Initiative program involving all roof bolting machine operators prior to their return to work after the fatality.

“An emphasis has been placed on job observations for roof bolting machine operators,” MSHA said.

“A total of 39 job observations have been conducted by company personnel on roof bolting machine operators between July 26, 2008 and October 21, 2008, to assure their compliance with the revised SWI … all the observations validated that roof bolting machine operators were complying with the revised SWI.”

To rectify the root cause involving the location of the worker and the canopy of the unit, MSHA ordered the mine to revise its roof control plan to address the drill station canopy positioning.

The organisation said the operator has also revised its SWI in regards to marking roof bolt placement and for the roof bolter key point.

Buchanan employs 536 workers, 476 underground, and produces around 14,000 raw tons daily from six continuous miner units (three supersections) and one longwall face.

MSHA had inspected the mine on June 26, 2008 but noted that a regular safety and health inspection had started on July 1 and was ongoing at the time of the accident.

The mine’s non-fatal days lost injury incidence rate for 2007 was 0.94, versus the national average of 4.71.

Earlier this month, Consol announced production had been suspended at Buchanan, blaming market conditions – but water issues could make the closure permanent.

The stoppage began on March 1 and is expected to last at least one month, to allow production to balance with customer shipping schedules and keep the company’s stockpiles in check.

Consol officials said it is taking advantage of the idle period to also review mine-water disposal issues brought forth in a recent court ruling that prohibits water naturally accumulating in Buchanan from being deposited at the nearby VP 3 operation.

“If that ruling remains in effect, and if other alternatives for the disposal of water are not available, then Consol Energy may be forced to further idle the Buchanan Mine,” the company said.

Based on expected sales from Buchanan, the company provided a production target for the year of 3.1 million tons – a target less than the mine’s typical capacity.

Buchanan’s gas production – some of which is performed in association with mining activity – will remain targeted at 85 billion cubic feet, Consol said.

Consol has 17 active mining operations, including fellow longwall mines Enlow Fork, Bailey and McElroy.

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