Massey Energy cited in 2 W.Va. mining deaths

October 14, 2010 by Ken Ward Jr.

Fifty-five-year-old James R. Erwin of Delbarton was killed at Massey Energy’s Spartan Mining Co. when he was pinned between a shuttle car and the mine wall.

Officials from the West Virginia Office of Miners Health, Safety and Training today are releasing reports on their investigations of three coal-mining deaths earlier this year in West Virginia.

Two of the reports deal with deaths at Massey Energy operations, one at subsidiary Spartan Mining Co.’s Ruby Energy Mine in Mingo County and the other at subsidiary White Buck Coal Co.’s Pocahontas Mine near Rupert.

In the White Buck incident, 60-year-old Wilbert R. Starcher of Orient Hill in Greenbrier County was killed when he was run over by a shuttle car at about 8:30 a.m. on July 1.  After being hit by the shuttle car, Starcher, an electrician, was dragged, face-down, by the car until another worker noticed his cap lamp dragging on the mine floor and signaled the shuttle car operator to stop.

State investigators found:

A sideboard had been added to the No. 1 shuttle car that inhibited the view of the operator. This sideboard was installed to a height that only allowed approximately 3/4 to 1 inch of clearance between it and the bottom of the canopy. The other two shuttle cars being used on the section had differently constructed sideboards. None of the three shuttle cars had sideboards of the same design.

Investigators concluded:

The victim was apparently struck from behind and run over as he was attempting to travel up the No. 2 entry within the shuttle car’s path of travel. The operator of the shuttle car was unable to see him as he was approaching the continuous miner to be loaded.

State inspectors cited Massey for this violation and for seven other alleged violations, including five for improper ventilation of the mine.

At Ruby Energy, five-five-year-old James R. Erwin of Delbarton was pinned between a shuttle car and the mine wall on May 10. Eleven days later, he died from his injuries.

State inspectors cited Massey for a violation of a provision of its state-approved roof control plan that required mining machines to be “operated from a sufficient distance” to protect workers from being hit by the machines or by shuttle cars.  State officials recommended that the company conduct more training to educate workers about the hazards associated with “equipment red zones.”  They also recommended that all shuttle car operators be trained to ensure that no one is alongside of their cars or in the turning radius when they turn into or out of a mine entry.

In a report issued yesterday, the U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration came to similar conclusions.

State officials have also issued their report on the April 22 accident that killed 28-year-old John King at International Coal Group’s ICG Beckley subsidiary’s Beckley Pocahontas Mine in Raleigh County (photo above).

Some readers may recall that the federal Mine Safety and Health Administration already issued its report on this death, and outlined what MSHA called two “root causes”:

The victim was positioned in the Red Zone, an area of close clearance, while the continuous miner was being operated.

and

The operator failed to have an effective policy in place to identify Red Zone hazards and to alert mine management when Red Zone violations are committed or observed by others.

The state’s report is much different. For example, it describes in detail Mr. King’s statements to another worker, Alan Christian, after the accident:

Suddenly, Mr. Christian heard the machine move and John King yelled out to him, “Get me out!” Mr. Christian turned and saw Mr. King pinned between the boom and the left coal rib with his back against the rib.

Mr. Christian immediately went to him to render assistance. Mr. King stated, “I can’t believe I did this!”

And, state inspectors also included comments that Mr. King reportedly made to the company’s section foreman, Kevin Torres:

Mr. King told Mr. Torres, “I messed up.”

The state’s report concluded:

On April 22, 2010, John King, continuous miner operator, received  crushing injuries when he was pinned between the coal rib and the boom of the continuous miner. He was positioned in an area that did not afford him protection while operating this machine. Mr. King died on April 23, 2010, as a result of the injuries sustained from the accident.

The “Findings of Fact” section of the state report included this statement:

According to testimony, on two previous occasions, the victim was cautioned by management personnel to remove himself from the “
red zone” area of the continuous miner while tramming the machine. On more than one occasion, a co-worker had observed the victim in the “red zone” during the tramming process, but never cautioned him.

State officials recommended that ICG retrain workers on red zone issues, and that the safety meeting be recorded and “considered a written warning.”

Further violations by workers “will result in a 3-day suspension,” the state report said. Second violations will result in five-day suspensions with potential discharge.

Remember that MSHA cited ICG in this death, prompting this statement from the company’s general counsel, Roger Nicholson:

We remain saddened by the tragic accident at ICG Beckley’s underground mine which took John King’s life in April of this year. ICG Beckley has always trained its miners on red zone hazards regularly and thoroughly, but it increased training concerning red zone hazards after this accident. ICG Beckley does not believe that it should have been cited in this accident and intends to contest the citation.

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