Why coal miners die on the job

August 28, 2013 by Ken Ward Jr.

Mine Explosion

Today, the U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration made public the report of its investigation into the Feb. 7 death of a miner at Metinvest Group’s Affinity Mine in Raleigh County, W.Va. MSHA investigators concluded:

The accident occurred because the mine level West side landing gate safety switches of the service hoist were tampered with and the hoist was being operated in an unsafe condition. While the gate safety switches were inoperative, miners and equipment were allowed to work on the hoist which exposed them to the hazardous condition. The hoist initiated movement with little to no warning while the safety gate was in the open position.

We’ve written about similar findings before, based on the report issued previously by the West Virginia Office of Miners’ Health, Safety and Training:

An underground mine elevator where a worker was killed in February had a key safety device deactivated and had not been inspected by the mine operator for at least a year, state investigators say in a new report.

The state Office of Miners’ Health, Safety and Training cited Pocahontas Coal Co., owned by Ukraine-based Metinvest B.V., in the Feb. 7 death at the company’s Affinity Mine near Sophia, Raleigh County.

Edward L. Finney, 43, of Bluefield, Va., was killed while he was unloading trash from a mine scoop vehicle’s bucket, which was positioned on the platform of the elevator, known as a hoist. The scoop fell on Finney when another worker raised the platform and the platform started moving up the elevator shaft.

State investigators said the hoist was equipped with a switch that should have kept the platform from moving while Finney was on it with its gates open.

But, investigators said, the safety switch “had been intentionally defeated.” The electrical-magnetic switch had been removed from the gate and taped to the gate’s frame assembly, giving the control system a false indication that the gate was closed when it was actually open, state investigators said in their report. After the accident, another worker saw the switch taped to the frame assembly and removed the tape, allowing the switch to fall to the floor, the state report said.

“The accident is a direct result of the intentional defeating of the west gate safety switch,” state investigators said. “This condition violates a health or safety rule and is of a serious nature and involves a fatality.”

State investigators also found that Affinity mine management had not performed safety or electrical examinations of the hoist equipment for at least a year. Safety examinations are required every 24 hours and electrical exams at least once per week.


We’ve also reported on the other death that occurred less than two weeks at the Affinity Mine:

Last week, the issue came up again when the mine safety board’s members heard a report on the Feb. 19 death of John Myles at Metinvest’s Affinity Mine in Raleigh County. Myles, 44, of Hilltop, was hit by a mining “scoop” vehicle as he worked shoveling coal debris away from the mine walls at the underground operation.

In a previous report, MSHA had concluded one cause of the accident was that the scoop “was allowed to operate with supplies and other extraneous materials positioned on top of the machine,” which “caused limited visibility” for the miner operating the vehicle.

And, we’ve reported about how carrying excess supplies and equipment in a manner that blocked vehicle operators’ views was a common practice at this particular coal mine:

On the morning of Jan. 23, state inspectors discovered a series of nearly identical violations on four coal-mining cars at Metinvest’s Affinity Mine in Raleigh County.

Sideboards on four of the mine’s shuttle cars were so high that the drivers had trouble seeing where they were going, state inspection reports show.

“The operator’s visibility is being compromised by the height of the sideboards,” said four notices of violation written in a 40-minute period by an inspector from the state Office of Miners’ Health, Safety and Training.

Three weeks later, on Feb. 12, state inspectors found a related problem. Workers had piled supplies — bags of rock dust, ventilation curtains and mining machine bits — on top of two other vehicles called scoops, so that the visibility of their operators was “impaired,” state records show.

Now, this week we have details from MSHA about a recent “impact inspection” by federal authorities who visited the Affinity Mine. Here’s what MSHA said in a news release issued yesterday:

One impact inspection conducted at Affinity Coal Company LLC’s Affinity Mine in Raleigh County, W.Va., resulted in 13 citations, 10 unwarrantable failure orders and one imminent danger order. MSHA inspectors secured communications from the surface to prevent the possibility of advance notice. The imminent danger order was issued when a foreman was seen riding as a passenger in the bucket of a rubber-tired scoop in a wet, rough and uneven entry. Riding in the bucket violated a safeguard MSHA issued on Sept. 17, 2012. A miner riding in the bucket of a scoop can be thrown from the bucket and crushed. There have already been two fatalities involving scoops this year at the Affinity Mine.

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