The US Mining Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) reports that a 38-year- old front-end loader operator with 10 years of mining experience was fatally injured when he was crushed between a metal support post on a highwall mining machine and a moving push beam.
The accident occurred on March 7th at the Blue Knob Surface Mine in Greenbrier County, West Virginia.
A highwall mining machine is used to mine holes that are several hundred feet deep, while miners remain on the surface.
The system involves a cutter module that operates like a continuous mining machine, a push beam that is connected to the cutter module, and additional push beams connected to the first push beam and each other, forming a train of push beams.
The push beams allow the power head to push the cutter module deeper into the hole being mined. The coal that is mined is conveyed, via an auger system in each push beam, to a belt on the surface.
According to MSHA, the worker parked his front-end loader and came to the highwall mining machine to assist with the work. He shoveled mud from the rails, located beside the chain, after each push beam was removed.
While standing near the push beam holder (holder) on the side of the machine, the miner’s head was caught between the 14th push beam being removed and a stationary metal support post.
The small section where the victim was standing was not intended to be a work area because of the proximity of the moving push beams. This area was designated for miners to step on momentarily as they got on and off the machine. Each push beam was moving approximately 12 to 18 inches in front of the victim as it was raised, moved horizontally, and lowered by the cradle/hoist to the holder.
The area where the fatal accident occurred has been brightly painted and posted with warning signs. Also, physical barriers have been installed to prevent entry. The back access steps on the holder side that provide access to this area from the ground have been removed.
A handrail has been installed across the access steps at the second level so no one can enter from the top area. Cameras were installed with monitors located in the operator’s compartment so the highwall mining machine operator can see if persons enter the red zone areas.
MSHA determined that the accident occurred because the mine operator did not identify the location of the accident as a pinch area and did not train the victim to avoid the pinch area.
A Section 103(K) Order No. 9169757 was issued to South Fork Coal Company, HWM 61, ID 33-04642 to assure the safety of all persons at this operation and to preserve any evidence to aid in the investigation.
The order prohibits all work activity except for onshift exams and water pumping until MSHA determines it is safe to resume normal mining operations.
The mine operator must obtain prior approval from an authorized representative for all action in the affected area.