Fatality blamed on communication breakdown

THE US Mine Safety and Health Administration has blamed a fatal accident at the Willow Lake coal mine in Illinois on mine operator Big Ridge's inadequate policies and procedures that failed to ensure direct communications were established and maintained between section workers.
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An illustration of a July 2010 incident in Illinois that left one dead. Courtesy MSHA.

Lou Caruana

The victim in the July 9, 2010 accident was struck and run over by a ram car when the car travelled through a check curtain as it approached the ratio feeder.

“No policies or procedures existed to assure that miners were familiar with safe positioning locations while equipment was operating on the section,” according to the MSHA report.

“In addition, the ambient noise levels near the check/run-through curtains prevented other miners from hearing the ram cars approaching the check curtains.

“Finally, failure of the operator to use fully transparent check curtains in areas where equipment travelled through the curtains obstructed the ram car operator's vision.”

The mine operator failed to establish a policy that ensured establishment of a direct line of communication that shared details of the section crew's activity and the projected or ongoing mining activities within the working section.

This would ensure activities could be coordinated in such a manner as to provide safety to all employees, according to MSHA.

The mine operator has since developed written policy and procedures addressing communication on the working section, including training of the miners.

Such training includes hazards associated with haulage travel ways, safe positioning for those present on the section during equipment operation, audible warning alarms, designed to be above the ambient noise levels on the section, and clear communication with other miners or personnel to assure their locations are known to equipment operators.

The mine operator has also developed policy and procedures addressing the use of clear, check/run-through curtains and has trained the miners accordingly.

Such training includes the use and proper installation of the transparent curtains on the working sections.