Following three coal mine fatalities during Oct. 4-6, MSHA is urging the mining industry to step up its compliance with safety and health regulations under the Mine Safety and Health Act and other applicable laws. Two fatalities occurred in underground mines in West Virginia and Illinois, and one fatality occurred at a surface mine in Wyoming.
“Three miners killed on three consecutive days is extremely troubling,” said Joseph A. Main, assistant secretary of labor for mine safety and health. “The fact that that this occurred over the weekend, when there may be a greater expectation an MSHA inspector would not be present, is a red flag.”
MSHA inspectors recently had been at two of the three mines, as they are in the agency’s targeted inspection program. Following the Upper Big Branch Mine disaster, MSHA initiated its impact inspection program, which targeted 57 mines that merited increased attention and enforcement due to a history of significant and/or repeat violations, and focused on safety standards concerning methane, mine ventilation and rock dusting – the types of violations that can lead to mine accidents.
From April 2010 through May 2012, MSHA conducted 452 impact inspections at mines, resulting in 8,106 citations, 811 orders and 32 safeguards for a total of 8,949 issuances. Compliance has improved at mines receiving impact inspections: Since September 2010, violations per inspection hour are down 13 percent the total lost-time injury rate is down 13 percent.
Despite the furlough, MSHA continues to investigate emergencies and fatalities, as well as conduct targeted inspections. However, 1,400 of MSHA’s 2,355 employees have been furloughed pending resolution of the budget standoff.
At the McElroy mine in West Virginia, one the mines in the targeted inspection program, Roger R. King, a longwall maintenance foreman, was fatally injured on Oct. 4 while assisting in setting up the panline on a new longwall face. The victim was standing in the face conveyor, facing the tailgate side of the section, when the accident occurred. A pulley was attached to a section of the pan line/face conveyor structure and a scoop was being used to pull the face conveyor chain. The sheave failed, came loose and struck the victim in the back of the head. King died on the way to the hospital.
Mine owner CONSOL Energy said it is working closely with state and federal mine safety officials to determine the cause of the incident. "Safety remains at the core of everything we do at CONSOL Energy. It is our priority to prevent events like this one from ever happening and we continue to strive for zero accidents. Our thoughts and prayers remain with Mr. King’s family, loved ones and his McElroy Mine family during this difficult time."
A fatality occurred Oct. 5 at the Pattiki mine in Illinois involving a golf cart used for underground transportation. The victim was in the golf cart when the accident occurred. The golf cart rolled over and pinned the victim underneath it. His coworkers lifted it off, but it was too late to save him. MSHA has investigated other fatalities at this particular mine, one in 2000 and one in 2008. In April 2009, three Pattiki miners were injured while operating an underground transportation vehicle. In October 2012, a miner was seriously iki mineinjured in a rockfall at the mine.
At the Bridger Coal mine in Wyoming, another mine on MSHA’s targeted inspection list, a dozer operator was killed Oct. 6 when the dozer plunged over a 150-foot highwall in the early hours of Sunday morning. When victim Mark Christopher Stassinos did not report in at the end of his regular shift, the operator began to search and found the dozer and Stassinos at the bottom of the highwall.
"We at PacifiCorp and Idaho Power Company are shaken by the news and our thoughts and prayers go out to family, friends, coworkers and the community," the companies that own the Bridger Coal mine said in a statement.
The coal mining industry has not had three consecutive days of fatal accidents in more than 10 years, Main said. The last time was Dec. 26-28, 2002, and also included a weekend.
Under the Mine Act, operators have the primary responsibility of protecting miners from safety and health hazards. MSHA will be issuing alerts on these three fatalities once more information is known, and will be communicating with coal mine operators and miners about the importance of and continuing responsibility to conduct examinations and other safety checks to find and fix hazards to protect miners.
Miners and mine operators can call the agency’s “One Call Does it All” number to report accidents or hazardous conditions. That number is 1-800-746-1553. Callers can report hazardous conditions to MSHA anonymously if they choose.