TRIO OF EXPERIENCED MINERS ALL KILLED IN LESS THAN A MONTH
By Donna Schmidt, Field Editor
While coal fatalities slowed significantly over the rate seen in the second quarter, there were still three too many deaths in coal between July and September; while all of the victims had logged several years as miners in their respective areas, nearly no other factors were the same among the group.
It is very important to note that, barring any further rashes of fatal injuries in the nation’s mines, U.S. coal could potentially have its safest year on record come December 31 (there were 11 coal miners killed on the job as of September 30, and 15 as of Coal Age press time). However, those men that have been taken are still leaving the industry with many questions and lessons to learn.
FATALITY 9 — VIRGINIA
The first half of the second quarter was relatively quiet; then, on August 20, came news of an electrical accident that left one worker dead at CONSOL Energy’s Buchanan No. 1 mine near Raven, Buchanan County. According to a preliminary report of the incident, maintenance supervisor Michael Justice, 41, was electrocuted while troubleshooting a Fletcher DDR-15A roof bolter.
Justice, who had 19 years of mining experience, had worked at Buchanan for more than four years and had been in his position for more than two years.
While the final investigation report for the incident had not been released at press time, federal investigators did note in a fatalgram report that Justice had made contact with an energized component inside an explosion-proof enclosure. He had removed the enclosure’s panel cover prior to performing electrical work on the 600 VAC roof bolting machine when he was electrocuted.
This death was the first since 2013 to be classified as electrical, and prompted the U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) to issue best practices for all U.S. miners on lock-out/tag-out procedures, as well as written plans for electrical troubleshooting.
FATALITY 10 — ALABAMA
A few weeks passed after Justice’s death before there was news of another coal miner losing his life on the job. On September 15, a machinery accident at Black Warrior Minerals’ Manchester operation in Walker County, Alabama, resulted in the nation’s 10th fatality.
Bulldozer operator Barry Duncan, 53, was preparing a drill bench on top of a highwall measuring about 50 ft in height when the incident occurred at the bituminous surface operation.
According to federal investigators in a preliminary report, Duncan was pushing consolidated material over the highwall’s edge when his dozer traveled over the edge and fell to the bottom of the pit.
Duncan was one of just 36 workers at the mine near Jasper. He had just marked his 28th year of mining, 15 of it served at Manchester, and had operated a dozer for 12 years.
MSHA, as of early December, had not yet issued its final findings from its probe into the incident. However, in a fatalgram issued in the weeks following his death, it stressed best practices for other mines including maintaining safe distances from highwalls, proper equipment maintenance and consistent familiarity with the work environment.
Machinery-related incidents have been a particularly concerning area for the nation’s coal mines in 2014; Duncan’s death was the fifth in the classification and the second machinery event at a surface mine.
FATALITY 11 — UTAH
The final death of the third quarter, and the 11th of the year, occurred just hours after the dozer fall from the Alabama highwall. The incident, classified by MSHA as powered haulage, occurred at West Ridge Resources’ West Ridge underground mine in Carbon County, Utah, just after 1 a.m. local time on September 16.
Shuttle car operator Alajandro Ramirez, 46, who was serving as a longwall support technician at the time of the accident, was operating a Wagner ST-2D mobile diesel can-setter to stockpile pallets when the unit articulated at the 23rd East Longwall section, crushing him. Some local media outlets initially reported the event as a cave-in, but company and federal officials quickly confirmed the activities leading up to his death.
Ramirez was just a few weeks shy of marking 11 years in mining, and had been at West Ridge for a little more than five-and-a-half years of that time. He had more than two years of experience with longwall support duties.
It was another area of high incidence in 2014 in U.S. coal; the miner was the third killed in a powered haulage incident and, at press time, one other had occurred in October at a large Wyoming complex.
A final report is still pending on this incident as well, but federal investigators did release a fatalgram with reminders for other mines to avoid pinch-point areas, perform thorough pre-operational examinations, and ensure the proper maintenance, function and control of equipment as designed and as modified.
FINAL REPORTS RELEASED
In addition to investigating the trio of coal mining deaths that occurred between July 1 and September 30, federal officials also had the tall task of releasing final investigation reports for three other fatalities in coal mining that occurred earlier this year and last year. Each provides more insight into the respective situations and can offer some points of detail for preventing future similar events.
The first, released July 1, referred to a surface death at MidAmerican Energy Holdings’ Jim Bridger complex in Sweetwater County, Wyoming, on October 6, 2013. The machinery fatality killed Mark Stassinos, who was operating a Caterpillar D-11R track bulldozer when, similarly to the third quarter fall death, his bulldozer traveled through a berm at the top of a 163-ft highwall.
The bulldozer overturned one and a quarter times before coming to rest with the bulldozer blade stuck vertical into the spoil at the bottom of the highwall. The victim had been partially ejected out the rear window of the bulldozer before it came to rest, according to investigators.
Stassinos was an experienced bulldozer operator, having 10 years of experience, with 1 year and 48 weeks at Jim Bridger, and a review of the work area and training records revealed no problems or inconsistencies.
“The accident occurred because the bulldozer operator did not have full control of his equipment while it was in motion at the ramp 56 drill bench,” MSHA concluded in its report. “In addition, the seat belt in the cab of the bulldozer had not been attached or secured by the machine operator prior to the occurrence of the accident.”
MSHA did ask the operator to revise its training program to include a new task training program for track dozers. At the mine, all dozer operators who work on elevated benches have been retrained in the proper procedures and hazards associated with pushing material off highwalls. Also, while building berms on the highwall, a full blade of dirt will be pushed to within 15 ft of the highwall and a second full blade of material will be pushed next to the first load of material off the highwall.
Retraining for all on mobile equipment present on mine property was also conducted.
On August 5, the probe of a February 21, 2014, fatal accident came to a close with the release of the final report in the machinery death at an underground operation in Virginia.
The victim was a young but experienced miner — Arthur Gelentser III, 24, a 5.5-year mining veteran — who served as a continuous mining machine operator at SunCoke Energy’s Dominion No. 30 underground operation in Buchanan County, Virginia.
According to the report, the victim was pinned between the boom of a remotely controlled continuous mining machine and the coal rib, a pinch point created by the machine and the coal rib while he was tramming the continuous mining machine in the last open crosscut toward the No. 1 entry.
As part of the investigative work, MSHA’s investigation team examined and tested the remote control unit and continuous mining machine involved in the accident. They were both put through a series of operational tests to determine if the machine would function properly, including forward and reverse tram controls, with all functions operating properly.
A battery of tests for the remote control unit and continuous mining machine on the H section at the mine were also performed, and the remote control unit was tested at the laboratory of Matric Ltd. in Pennsylvania, and an examination of the controller and its components was initiated at the Approvals and Certifications Center in Triadelphia, West Virginia, in early April.
“During the two days of testing of the continuous mining machine at the mine, it did not exhibit [and] startup problem,” MSHA said, referring to an early comment of startup issues from mine personnel. “The remote control unit was also tested to determine the range of the device and if it would fail to function in certain areas. The range was found to be well beyond either end of the continuous mining machine. No areas near the continuous mining machine were discovered that would affect the function of the remote control unit.”
The agency concluded that the root cause of the accident was a failure to comply with provisions of the approved roof control plan that prohibited anyone from being positioned between the continuous mining machine and the coal rib when tramming from place to place.
A single 104(a) citation was given to Dominion for the violation of 75.220(a)(1), which includes outlines for compliance with approved roof control plans.
Finally, on August 15, federal officials released its findings from an investigation of a March 25, 2014, fatality at Gibson County Coal’s Gibson mine in Princeton, Indiana, an underground operation that had suffered the loss of a worker in a machinery accident. It was the third death in coal in 2014.
Mechanic trainee Timothy Memmer, 41, had just 23 weeks of mining experience when he was killed while working on the mine’s belt feeder.
“The victim was cutting through the inner left side plate of the crawler assembly that connects the hopper jack assemblies to the crawler frame,” MSHA said in the report. “When the cut was completed, the crawler assembly pivoted upward, pinning the victim between the crawler track and the frame of the feeder.”
Investigators concluded in its review that the accident occurred because mine management did not ensure that safe work procedures were established for the repair being performed.
“As a result, the feeder was not securely blocked in position to protect all miners from the hazards of stored energy sources, and the victim was positioned in a hazardous location for the work he was performing,” the agency said.
Following through with MSHA’s outlines, the mine operator developed and submitted a written action plan for completion of the repair work on the feeder, as well as provisions for blocking other feeders for repair. T
he action plan included provisions for blocking under the frame on the dump end (outby) of the feeder, between the cat track and the frame of the feeder, and the inby end of the feeder. Other provisions related to rock dusting, lock-out/tag-out and gas checks were also included in the action plan, and all maintenance workers were trained on the action plan for repairing feeders.