Coal Tattoo

‘Wildcat Coal’ and Alliance Resource Partners


Alliance Resource Partners CEO Joe Craft (above)  is among the mining executives behind an effort to build a new “Wildcat Coal Lodge” for the University of Kentucky basketball program. Longtime mine safety advocate Tony Oppegard has noted before that the name implies coal that is mined illegally.

We don’ t have any idea yet what caused the massive roof fall that has left two miners missing at Craft’s Dotiki Mine in Western Kentucky … But we do know that in recent years miners have died in Alliance’s non-union operations because the company violated mine safety laws.

UPDATED, WITH ADDITIONAL INCIDENTS: A quick check of U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration reports revealed five seven such incidents that claimed nine lives in the last five years alone:

— On July 7, 2006, Edward Fitzgerrel as killed while repositioning the platform of a lift at Alliance subsidiary Hopkins County Coal’s East Volunteer preparation plant near Madisonville, Ky.  According to the MSHA report:

Fitzgerrel was caught between a metal cable tray and the handrail over the platform control panel resulting in fatal injuries. He was employed by General Mine Contracting, Inc. (GMC), a construction contractor on a new coal preparation plant for Hopkins County Coal (HCC), LLC’s East Volunteer.

Federal investigators concluded:

The Lift was not being maintained in safe operating condition and safety defects were not reported to the contractor or a mine official prior to operation. The lack of effective policies and procedures contributed to these conditions. The Lift’s main telescoping switch was not operating properly in that unintentional movement of the boom telescope occurred during the operation of the lift.

— On February 17, 2006, roof bolting machine operator Willard J. Miller was killed while operating a diesel-powered locomotive during a longwall machine move at Alliance’s Mettiki Mine along the West Virginia-Maryland border near Oakland, Md. According to the MSHA report:

The locomotive he was operating struck a parked lowboy rail car that was loaded with a longwall shield. The victim was crushed between the locomotive control panel and the tip of the longwall shield, which projected past the end of the lowboy.

Federal investigators concluded:

The direct cause of the accident was the method in which the longwall shield was carried on the low-boy, which permitted the load to extend beyond the limits of the car and into the roadway where it could be contacted by other vehicles. Practical means for increasing the victim’s awareness of his proximity to the lead trip, such as by use of a trip light or by facing in the direction of travel, could have also prevented the accident. An effective procedure was not in place to protect miners from hazards during transportation of items such as longwall shields.

— On Aug. 10, 2007, Jarred Ashmore, Daniel McFadden and Todd Richardson were killed in a fall of a bucket being used to sink a new mine shaft at the Gibson Mine.  The incident occurred during the celebration of the 100th anniversary of contractor Frontier-Kemper, when Richardson and McFadden asked for a tour of the shaft-sinking operation. MSHA investigators found:

A nylon sling and shackle attached to the bottom of the sinking bucket lodged into a shaft collar door, thereby tipping the sinking bucket. This resulted in the men falling from the bucket to the bottom of the shaft, a distance of approximately 550 feet. At the time of the accident, the shaft had not yet been connected to the underground mine workings.

And investigators found:

The accident occurred as a result of Frontier-Kemper’s failure to ensure that the hoist was under the control of the hoistman at all times when persons were in the shaft. The toplander was not at his station as the bucket was being lowered through the shaft collar doors and the hoistman had no visual contact with the bucket at this point. The hoistman lost control of the bucket when the nylon sling and shackle entangled with the shaft collar door. The contractor also failed to ensure that adequate fall protection was utilized while persons were transported in the sinking bucket.

— On March 9, 2008, laborer Michael H. Rickard fell on an icy walkway outside the warehouse at Alliance’s Warrior Coal Preparation Plant in Hopkins County, Ky. After being treated for a broken leg, and following surgery, Rickard developed pneumonia and was in and out of critical care while hospitalized.  He died on April 4, 2008.

Federal investigators from MSHA concluded:

The walkway was not maintained free of snow and ice which resulted in the fall of Mr. Rickard. The lack of effective policies and procedures contributed to these conditions and the resultant fall. Mr. Rickard’s death was charged to the mining industry because his death was due to the complications of the surgical procedure that was performed to remedy a work-related injury.

— On June 3, 2008, Justin Wilkin a 25-year-old roof bolter operator, was killed in a roof fall at Alliance’s Gibson Mine near Princeton, Indiana.  MSHA investigators concluded:

The standards, policies, and administrative controls in use at this mine did not ensure that persons would not position themselves or travel inby permanent or temporary roof support. The victim traveled under unsupported roof in front of the ATRS support beam to cross from the right side of the roof bolting machine to the left.

— On October 16, 2008, Timothy Adamson, a worker at Alliance’s Pattiki Mine in White County, Ill., was killed when he was pinned between a continuous mining machine and the mine rib, or wall. MSHA investigators concluded:

The accident occurred because of mine management’s failure to ensure that employees did not work or travel in the “Red Zone” around the remote controlled continuous miner. Based on the physical evidence, measurements and interviews, it is apparent to the investigators that the victim was backing the continuous miner away from the face of No. 9 entry while positioned between the machine and the coal rib.

— On Dec. 11, 2008, contract electrician helper Timothy Albright was killed at the Warrior Preparation Plant when he was hit in the head while trying to move the platform on a man-lift.  MSHA investigators concluded:

Miners were not trained adequately in the safe operating procedures to be followed in the event the platform of the man-lift becomes caught or entangled with an adjacent structure. Once the platform became caught, neither Albright nor his foreman knew the proper actions to take to safely remove the platform from the structure. This lack of knowledge to take the appropriate actions resulted in the accident.

And, there was also the mysterious case of Chad Cook, a contract truck driver at the Mettiki Mine. Gazette readers may recall that state and federal regulators at first tried to avoid investigating Cook’s death as mining-related. They argued his truck accident occurred on a public highway — until we published a story on photos showing otherwise.   MSHA later tried to blame the worker, arguing that Cook was driving too fast and was responsible for the accident. But West Virginia investigators admitted that by waiting two years to try to look into the incident, they were simply unable to determine what really happened.