Coal Tattoo

Another miner killed at Drummond mine in Alabama

 Here’s the sad news, reported in the Birmingham News earlier this week:

A worker at Drummond Mining Company’s Shoal Creek Mine was killed in an accident there this morning, according to the Mine Safety and Health Administration.

 A preliminary report from the U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration said:

On September 11, 2012, at approximately 10:15 a.m., a fatal accident occurred at the Drummond Company, Inc., Shoal Creek Mine while moving longwall equipment. A 28 year old miner was fatally injured when he was crushed between a large power center and the coal rib. Efforts were made to resuscitate the victim while he was being removed from the mine. The miner was pronounced dead on the surface.

MSHA identified the miner as Julius Walker III. As most readers probably know, hourly workers at the Shoal Creek Mine are represented by the United Mine Workers of America. The complex employs more than 670 workers in all. Shoal Creek is a large underground mine located in the central portion of the Warrior Coal Basin, and stretching across three Alabama counties, Jefferson, Tuscaloosa and Walker.

Unfortunately, this accident highlights again the problem of coal miners being injured or killed by being crushed by moving equipment in underground mines. Just a few months ago, MSHA issued this safety alert, warning the coal industry:

Since January 1, 2010, eighty five miners have been injured by mobile equipment including eight miners who were killed in accidents involving mobile face equipment. Of the total number of miners injured, twenty six were permanently partially or totally disabled from accidents involving mobile equipment and fifty one had lost time accidents involving continuous miners, shuttle cars, ramcars, mantrips and scoops.

MSHA advised that one of the ways to avoid these needless deaths is for mine operators to:

Install and maintain electronic proximity detection devices.

And, the agency refers us to its special webpage about these devices, where we learn:

Proximity detection / collision warning is a technology that can be installed on mining machinery to detect the presence of personnel or machinery within a certain distance of a machine. These systems can be programmed to send warning signals and stop machine movement when the programmed areas are breached. We use the term “proximity detection” to refer to underground mining applications which often are designed to inhibit machine movement. We use the term “collision warning” to refer to surface machinery applications that typically provide warning signals only. MSHA has assisted the industry in the development of this technology on a variety of machinery, both underground and surface.

More than a year ago, MSHA chief Joe Main proposed a rule to require mine operators to install proximity detection systems on continuous mining machines. But MSHA has yet to finalize that rule. And a second proximity detection rule governing other sorts of underground mining equipment, has yet to even be published. It’s been held up at the White House for roughly a year.

Julius Walker is the second miner to die on the job this year at Shoal Creek. Thirty-seven-year-old electrician Harold Ennis was electrocuted on March 23 while performing work on an inner machine cable on a shuttle car.  In a recently released report, MSHA investigators found:

The accident occurred because mine management did not assure that Shuttle Car No. 17441 was de-energized and locked/tagged out before electrical work was performed. The victim received fatal electrocution injuries when he made contact with one phase of the energized 950-volt inner machine cable. A contributing factor was that the victim did not use an individual lock and tag on the power disconnect device.

In each of the last 10 years, the Shoal Creek operation has recorded an accident rate worse than the national average, according to MSHA.  Another worker died at the operation in a 2005 roof fall.

Nationwide, coal-mining deaths remain ahead of last year’s pace, with 14 deaths, compared to 13 at the same time in 2011.