Service truck operator Phillip Gustafson, 38, was working June 8 at Taft Coal Sales and Associates’ Choctaw mine refueling a diesel track-mounted highwall drill and was placing a fuel nozzle into the tank of the unit when an ignition/explosion occurred.
A fire erupted as a result, and Gustafson was fatally injured after he was engulfed in flames. MSHA has classified the incident as Ignition or Explosion of Gas or Dust, the 30th in 2010.
The worker’s 7.5 years of experience was gained at Choctaw, conducting his primary duties.
To prevent future similar events at other US operations, the agency has compiled several best practices for workers. These include:
- Open fuel tank caps slowly to relieve any pressure buildup;
- Ensure the refueling area is well ventilated, especially in low areas to where heavy fuel vapors can accumulate;
- Before refueling, turn off the engine(s) and motor(s) and eliminate other potential ignition sources; and
- Check hydraulic lines and connections, especially those near hot surfaces, prior to operating the vehicle. Perform maintenance or repairs when necessary.
MSHA also reminded mine operators to ensure that all workers affected with these duties be familiar with the Material Safety Data Sheets on fuels and lubricants.
Federal officials encouraged anyone with additional prevention ideas to submit them through its website, including the year of the fatality and the fatality number.
Gustafson’s death was the 37th in the industry in the 2010 calendar year. To date, the nation has recorded 40 coal fatalities.
The 105-worker Choctaw bituminous mine is owned by large Alabama producer Walter Energy.