In response to the Knight Hawk incident, Mike Woods, director of the Illinois Office of Mines and Minerals, dispatched the state’s 14 mining inspectors to each deep mine with a singular message: Tell miners to stay out of the “red zone” at all times, or face punishment.
Chamness was crushed to death when he was caught between the tail of the continuous miner and the coal rib, according to the Mine Safety and Health Administration. On November 18, 2012, Chad Wayne Meyers, 30, was killed in similar fashion at the Willow Lake underground mine in Saline County. Willow Lake, which has closed, was operated by Big Ridge Inc., a subsidiary of St. Louis-based Peabody Energy.
“If we catch someone in the red zone, inspectors have orders to remove them from the mine. And the supervisor shall be removed from the mine also and his papers suspended immediately,” said Woods. “When the miner is tramming, there is no reason for you to ever be in the red zone. When the miner is backing out, there is no reason for a miner to be near the machine.”
After that warning was conveyed to coal operators, Woods said the phone lines at his Springfield office “burned up.” His response: “I got your attention, didn’t I? This is what I was after.”
Woods, who was appointed to the post last year following the retirement of longtime Mines and Minerals Director Joseph Angleton, said he takes it personally when a miner is injured on the job in Illinois. “We have to send a very clear message,” he said. “We’ve had two very young men fatally crushed to death. This is not acceptable and we will not accept it.”
In the early going, the message appeared to be getting through, he said. “There’s some companies who catch someone in the red zone, they will terminate that employee. I’d rather have someone unemployed than have a widow.”
Woods said the state intends to “rigorously enforce” the red zone edict. “Every inspector went to every mine on all three shifts,” he said. “The coal mines are talking to people about the red zone. I feel very comfortable about that.”