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Fatality Investigation: Miner Crushed Underneath Caterpillar Loader

Worker did not properly secure mobile equipment.

On Nov. 11, 2018, Romney Natapu, an underground technician, began his work day at Pete Bajo mine located near Carlin, Nev.

The 45-year-old employee of Newmont USA Limited received his daily shift assignment during a meeting with the rest of his crew mates.

The mine, a multi-level underground gold operation, operates seven days per week with two, 12-hour shifts per day and employs 95 miners. The gold-bearing ore is drilled and blasted underground and then loaded into haul trucks. It is then hauled to a milling operation for processing and refining. The finished products are sold to commercial industries.

Mine Foreman Jordan Duke told Natapu he would operate the water truck, clean out sumps with the R1600G Caterpillar Loader Load-Haul-Dump (LHD), haul supplies, and clean headings in preparation for drilling.

After spending the morning traveling underground through the mine watering haulage roads with a water truck, Natapu traveled to the 4580 level to start cleaning up the 120 heading in preparation for drilling.

At 2:00 p.m., Mine Foreman Duke arrived at the 4580 level and noticed the bucket of the LHD was rolled back and against the backfilled face of the 100 heading. He exited his vehicle and heard the engine of the LHD running, but did not see anyone in the immediate area.

Duke called out asking if anybody was there and got no response. After discovering the parking brake was not set, he looked under the LHD and saw Natapu beneath the left front tire.  

The mine foreman ran back to his vehicle and called for help on the radio, and the mine dispatcher activated the mine's emergency response plan.

Emergency medical technicians (EMTs) went underground and upon arrival at the accident scene, chocked the left rear tire of the LHD and shut the engine off. The EMTs evaluated Natapu’s condition and found he was not exhibiting any signs of life.  

EMTs moved the LHD to retrieve the victim. A coroner from Eureka County, Nevada traveled underground to the accident scene and pronounced Natapu dead at 5:55 p.m. The EMTs then took the victim to the surface.

The Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) immediately investigated the incident and concluded company policies, procedures and controls were not followed to safely park unattended mobile equipment.

Investigators discovered the LHD was left unattended on a grade with the engine running without lowering the bucket to the ground, setting the parking brake, turning the engine off and chocking the wheels or turning the LHD into the rib.

Natapu, who had more than eight years of mining experience, walked down the decline for an unknown reason and the LHD rolled forward, running over him. MSHA reviewed the technician's training records and found them to be in compliance with the agency's training requirements.

In addition, they examined the steering and transmission joystick controls located on the front-left side of the operator’s seat. According to MSHA, the controls were defective, in that the transmission failed to automatically shift into neutral when the locking lever was engaged. However, this was determined to not be a factor in the accident, and a non-contributory citation was issued.

MSHA's full report is available at the agency's website.

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