April-June quarter proves to be another active period in coal mining, particularly underground

By Donna Schmidt, Field Editor

While the second quarter began quietly, with no fatal accidents recorded in coal at all in April and most of May, the three deaths that followed came in fairly rapid succession, and all from the eastern U.S. coalfields.

Of these events, one was at a surface operation and two incidents occurred at underground mines. None were classified as the same type of event, and so far (the third fatality occurred near press time, so some information is still being confirmed), all involved appear to have had many years of experience in the industry as well as at their respective positions.

An experienced worker at Apex Energy’s No. 11 Allen Branch complex in Kentucky was crushed after being pinned between the rear of a road grader and front of a loaded tractor and trailer.

May 28 — Allen Branch

At Apex Energy’s No. 11 Allen Branch complex in Kentucky just after the Memorial Day holiday, 45-year-old foreman Roy Mullins was crushed after being pinned between the rear of a road grader and front of a loaded tractor and trailer.

Mullins, a contractor for ST&T Leasing, had been working in mining for 27 years.

“The tractor and trailer was transporting a highwall miner to the job site and encountered a steep incline that could not pull on its [own] power,” the Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) said in a preliminary report. “A road grader was brought to assist the tractor up the incline…[and] the foreman was between the two machines connecting a chain when the grader rolled back.”


The mine in Phelps, Pike County, owned by Cambrian Coal Corp. had just eight workers on-site at the time, but fortunately no one else was hurt. The event was classified by MSHA as a machinery fatality.

While a final investigation report is still pending for Mullins’ death, federal investigators stressed proper training and communications in a fatalgram report in the weeks following.

Additionally, it urged miners to be aware of their positioning during such tasks and to never place themselves in between any kind of equipment that has not yet been blocked and secured from movement.

“Turn the engine off, place the transmission in gear, set the park brake, and always ensure equipment is securely blocked against motion before performing repair or maintenance work, which includes connecting tow bars,” officials said, adding that all tow bars used should be the proper length and rating for the job.

Among other best practices were the maintenance and adjustment of equipment braking systems — do not depend on hydraulic systems to hold mobile equipment stationary — and the performance of pre-operational examinations to identify and repair defects that may affect safe equipment operation.

May 31 — Gateway

News of the Allen Branch fatality had barely left our ears when, just three days later in Illinois, another coal miner lost his life on the job. The victim in this incident was mine examiner Glen Campbell, 59, a 32-year mining veteran who had been at a Randolph County, Illinois, mine for more than nine years and had more than a year of examining experience.

According to a preliminary report from federal investigators, Campbell — one of three workers at Peabody Midwest Mining’s Gateway operation in Coulterville that day — was found in an unconscious state by another examiner at Crosscut 193 on the Main South travelway.

“The victim was driving a two-seat diesel mantrip en route to examine a set of seals,” MSHA found. “The mantrip was nosed into the west rib just inby the location of the victim [along the east rib].”

Despite first aid being performed on Campbell, he was pronounced dead by the coroner upon being transported to the surface.

MSHA classified the death as a powered haulage accident, and a subsequent fatalgram report from federal investigators did not offer much more insight into the events surrounding the fatality; in addition to seat belt use, proper speeds of all mobile equipment, and the compliance with all standardized traffic rules underground, MSHA recommended positive controls use on personnel carriers and mantrips to limit speeds as well as safety devices to prevent miners from falling or being tossed from moving units.

While local media quoted the coroner as noting some trauma on the victim, no elaborations were made. A final investigation report is pending.

One of three workers at Peabody Midwest’s Gateway mine in Illinois, a 32-year mining veteran, was found in an unconscious state by another examiner at Crosscut 193 on the Main South travelway on May 31.One of three workers at Peabody Midwest’s Gateway mine in Illinois, a 32-year mining veteran, was found in an unconscious state by another examiner at Crosscut 193 on the Main South travelway on May 31.

June 28 — 4 West Mine

Just two days before the quarter closed, a third fatality was reported at Dana Mining’s 4 West complex in Green County, Pennsylvania. The incident was so recent that, at press time, details were still emerging from forensic professionals, and MSHA had not yet issued its official preliminary report.

An agency spokeswoman, however, said the victim, identified by local media as John William “Bill” Kelly, 55, was in the process of closing airlock doors at the operation in Mount Morris when the complete structure fell on him. Three days post-incident, a 103k order to halt all production was still in effect, and MSHA was still on-site conducting its investigation; an autopsy conducted reportedly determined his cause of death was crushing blunt force trauma.

Dana Mining is controlled by Mepco Intermediate Holdings, and the 4 West operation (cutting from the Sewickley seam) has been active since 2005. Dana Mining took over operations in 2008.

MSHA has classified the fatality as falling material.

On March 17 of this year, a fuel truck driver overturned a loaded vehicle on a haulage road at Republic Energy’s surface mine in West Virginia.On March 17 of this year, a fuel truck driver overturned a loaded vehicle on a haulage road at Republic Energy’s surface mine in West Virginia.

Addition of March 17 — Republic Energy

Too many blinks would almost allow someone to miss an addition to the fatality list by MSHA made in the time between the May 31 Gateway death and the fatality June 28 at Dana Mining’s 4 West. It involves a March 17 incident at Republic Energy’s surface operation in West Virginia.

According to preliminary findings (a final report is still being developed), 52-year-old fuel truck driver Von Bower, a contractor for Roger Petroleum, was descending on the Eagle Land haul road to fuel an excavator when the vehicle overturned. The driver was found unresponsive by some of the other 46 workers at the Fayette County, West Virginia, operation working the owl shift.

A fatalgram report released just as this edition of Coal Age was going to press said the tandem-axle truck was fully loaded with about 3,500 gallons of diesel fuel and that the descending grade included a sharp right curve.

Even after interviews, investigators have not been able to determine whether the victim was wearing a seat belt. As such, many of MSHA’s resulting best practices for preventing future similar events related to safety belt use.

Investigators also have stressed the use of conspicuous signage on all haulage roads for speed limits, grades/curves and appropriate gears; thorough pre-operational examinations and staying within the capabilities, operating ranges, limits and features of all mobile equipment.

With the addition of Bower’s death to the list, the total coal deaths as of June 30 stands at eight. For the first half of the year, underground deaths have topped the list with six and Pennsylvania is the No. 1 state suffering fatal incidents (West Virginia follows closely behind with two). March saw the most number of deaths with three, and two were recorded in May.

Final Federal Reports Issued

MSHA’s progress to release final investigation reports of coal deaths during the second quarter ending June 30 was not as rapid as usual, but the agency did release its findings on two single-death incidents from underground incidents in late 2014 and early 2015.

The first report detailed the events of December 16, 2014, when repairman Eli Eldridge, 34, was struck by a battery ram car/coal hauler at Patriot Coal’s Highland 9 complex in Union County, Kentucky.

Some additional information released shortly after the incident by MSHA indicated that the unit was traveling toward the face area, striking the victim with the left side, trailer end of the ram car.

The Union County coroner determined that the victim died instantly when the accident occurred at 10:55 a.m.

A rendering of an incident from December 2014 in which repairman Eli Eldridge, 34, was struck by a battery ram car at Patriot Coal’s Highland 9 complex in Union County, Kentucky.A rendering of an incident from December 2014 in which repairman Eli Eldridge, 34, was struck by a battery ram car at Patriot Coal’s Highland 9 complex in Union County, Kentucky.

Eldridge, a 15-year mining veteran, had experience at his job (eight years) but had been at the mine just 36 weeks. The Non-Fatal Days Lost (NFDL) rate for the mine in 2014 was 6.49, versus the national average of 3.27 over last year for mines of this type.

Investigators said a test of the No. 26 coal hauler, which involved functionality and braking systems, did not reveal any irregularities or deficiencies. However, MSHA noted that it was the second serious accident and the first fatality with the hauler. The first injury accident occurred December 5, 2013, when a miner, while walking beside the de-energized hauler, walked through a ventilation curtain where the coal hauler was parked beneath the curtain. Not realizing that the miner on foot had not cleared the coal hauler, the coal hauler operator started the coal hauler and engaged the steering, which pinned the miner between the machine’s bed and coal rib, breaking his leg.

In its probe, the agency also obtained more information on the miner’s personal strobe light, which had been attached to the front lower portion of his belt suspenders; interviews indicated that the victim did not have his strobe light turned on at the time of the accident.

“The strobe light worked properly when it was tested,” the report said. “During the investigation, it was determined that the location of the victim’s strobe light would have been ineffective to warn the coal hauler operator due to the raised position of the bed when the victim was struck.”

MSHA concluded that the blame in the fatal accident came back to the operator, which “failed to provide adequate engineering controls, administrative controls, and acceptable work practices to protect miners” from mobile equipment hazards.

“In addition, the mine operator failed to maintain the condition of the mine floor free of preventable bottom irregularities,” the investigators wrote. “The bottom irregularities present in the intersection of the No. 7 entry greatly reduced the coal hauler operator’s field of view, until the coal hauler was clear of the bottom irregularities.”

In its corrective actions, the agency required the operator provide all miners working or traveling inby the loading point with two-way radios to use to communicate their presence on the unit, their intended activities and route of travel.

Additionally, the mine instituted a policy that all rubber-tired equipment operators on the working section shall sound an audible warning device before tramming the equipment in any direction.

Four safeguards were issued as a result of the fatality, all citing 30 CFR Section 75.1403.

The second final investigation report for the quarter was released in late June, and dealt with the February 20 roof fall at Rosebud Mining’s Heilwood operation in western Pennsylvania.

The victim, 29-year-old roof bolter helper Todd Trimble, who had four years in the mining industry, was instantly killed when he was crushed between a piece of roof rock and the top of a drill canopy at the mine’s No. 2 slope entry. The roof rock that fell measured 3 ft wide, 11.5 ft long, and varied between 3 and 16 in. thickness.

In a preliminary report released by MSHA the following day, it was revealed that Trimble had been repositioning roof mesh for the upcoming row of roof supports at the time of the accident.

“At approximately 2:05 p.m., Trimble was positioned between the roof bolting machine drill mast and the ATRS…witnesses stated that Trimble was attaching support wire to the previously installed wire roof screen and the piece of wire roof screen that would be installed,” investigators said in the report. “The rock fell in such a manner that the ATRS could not prevent the rock from hitting Trimble. The edge of the rock closest to Trimble struck and pinned him in an upright position against the roof bolting machine drill canopy.”

A coroner pronounced the victim dead at 4:30 p.m. at the mine’s surface.

Among the areas of focus in the death probe: the geological conditions of the A Main section and the mine’s roof control plan and addendum at the time of the accident. As was noted by MSHA, all was in compliance, including the measurements and distances that had been adjusted in the RCP addendum.

Testing was also performed on the ATRS and roof bolter by federal investigators. “Although not a factor in the accident, the lack of a pre-charge in the hydraulic accumulator and the high leakage rate of the check valve increased the likelihood that the ATRS would not provide proper roof support during a roof bolting cycle longer than 20 minutes,” the group noted, adding that a non-contributing citation was issued, as was another for the middle extension of the ATRS beam, which was flipped forward in the stowed position.

Additionally, during the accident investigation interview process, it was discovered that the wire roof screen installation was not being conducted in a consistent manner by all roof bolters.

“Four of the seven roof bolters stated that they walked in front of the drill mast to install support wire and felt that it was acceptable, since they said they were under the ATRS at all times,” MSHA said in its report. “However, during re-enactment of the accident, it was determined that the distance from the outby edge of the ATRS to the drill mast ranged from 18 to 22 in. At the time of the accident, the right hand canopy was approximately 4.3 ft off the mine floor and the left side canopy was approximately 4.5 ft off the mine floor.”


The report went on to indicate that drill station canopies were lowered in order to place wire roof screen on top of the canopies for installation, a practice that causes the drill station canopies to not be in a position to protect the roof bolters from potential roof hazards while positioning the wire roof screen.

As a result of the investigation, the mine’s roof control plan was revised to include a safer means of installing wire roof screen. This, too, was a primary focus of corrective actions completed at the mine post-incident.

Once again, the investigators’ conclusions in the report pointed back to the mine’s operator.

“The operator failed to prevent miners from working in an area that was not adequately supported or otherwise controlled to prevent hazards from falling roof,” MSHA said. “The roof bolting machine operators were allowed to position themselves between the drill mast and the ATRS, with the drill station canopies lowered, while positioning the roof screen. This practice exposed roof bolting machine operators to hazards from falling roof.”

The agency issued one citation for a violation of 30 CFR, Section 75.202(a), for a failure to support or otherwise control the area of loose roof rock in the A Mains.