Why coal miners die on the job

November 19, 2013 by Ken Ward Jr.

Mine Explosion

The U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration has released the report of its investigation into a February 2013 death at Knight Hawk Coal LLC’s Prairie Eagle South underground mine in Perry County, Illinois.  Here’s the overview:

On Wednesday, February 13, 2013, Timothy Chamness (victim), a 28-year-old continuous mining machine operator, was fatally injured when he was pinned between the tail of the remote controlled continuous mining machine and the coal rib on MMU 001-0, located on the 3rd North section of the Main West entries. While repositioning the continuous mining machine to mine the final cut on the left side of the entry, the victim was pinned between the conveyor boom of the machine and the coal rib on the right side of the entry.

The accident occurred because the mine operator did not ensure that the mine’s roof control plan and the company policies in place at the time of the accident were being followed. The mine operator did not have engineering controls in place to prevent this type of accident. In addition, the mine operator did not have a method to prevent damage to the valve bank and solenoids component assembly on the continuous mining machine.

KnightHawkDeath

Among other things, the report notes:

Shortly after the accident, ten preliminary interviews were conducted with employees of the mine. Follow up formal interviews with seven persons were conducted on February 13 and 14, 2013 at the mine office and on February 15, 2013 at the Office of Mines and Minerals (IDNR) in Benton, Illinois. All of the interviewed employees were questioned specifically about the “Red Zone” restrictions. The miners stated that they had been trained by the mine operator and knew about the “Red Zone.” However, the accident investigation revealed that it was an ongoing practice at the mine for miners to be within the “Red Zone.” The accident investigators found that coworkers had previously seen Chamness and other miners working in the “Red Zone” at the Prairie Eagle South Mine. In addition, at least one member of mine management, Richard Pasquino, Section Foreman, had been aware of previous occasions when Chamness and other miners had been within the “Red Zone.” “Red Zone” violations were observed mainly by other miners during the repositioning of the continuous mining machine at the face area between mining cut lifts when the continuous mining machine operator was working alone at the face. The investigation also revealed that the continuous mining machine operators were permitted to work alone at the face areas, except when the battery coal hauler is being loaded by the continuous mining machine.

The MSHA investigation team also found:

The mine operator failed to maintain in safe operating condition the Joy Mining Machinery, Remotely-Controlled Model 14CM15-11EX, Serial No. JM6284A, MSHA Approval No. 2G-4159A-0, Continuous Mining Machine. Malfunction of the valve bank caused the tail to continue swinging to the right after the activation switch was released on the operator hand held remote control unit.

By the way, it’s worth noting that one of the corrective actions listed in this MSHA report states:

The mine operator will install proximity devices on continuous mining machine, Serial No. JM6284A. The remaining fleet of Knight Hawk Coal, LLC continuous mining machines will have proximity detection installed on a schedule starting in 2013, continuing through 2014 and in 2015 during full rebuilds for the continuous mining machines. Any new continuous mining machine purchased by Knight Hawk Coal, LLC will be equipped with a Proximity detection system.

We’re still waiting for MSHA to take action on a long-pending rulemaking that would require all mine operators to install proximity detection systems before miners get killed.

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