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District 2

Surface Coal Mine


Purco Strip (ID No. 36-03535)

Purco Coal, Inc.
White, Fayette County, Pennsylvania

July 25, 1995


William D. Sparvieri, Jr.

Coal Mine Safety and Health Inspector

Originating Office - Mine Safety and Health Administration
RR1, Box 736, Hunker, Pennsylvania 15639
Joseph J. Garcia, District Manager


The Purco Strip mine, operated by Purco Coal, Inc. is located along Legislative Route 26048 in the village of White, Saltlick Township, Fayette County, Pennsylvania. Coal is mined from the middle and lower Kittanning coal seams. The total thickness of both seams averages 4-1/2 feet thick. The mine operates one 9 hour shift a day, 5 days a week. Average production is 150 tons of coal a day, mined from one active pit. Employment is provided for 7 persons.

Overburden is drilled with a highwall drill, shot by a contract blaster, and then removed with a dragline, bulldozers, front-end loaders and rock trucks. The coal is loaded into trucks with front-end loaders and shipped to various customers.

The principal officer of the operation are as follows:

Anthony J. Ripepi . . . . . . . President
Richard A. Ripepi . . . . . . . Vice President/Superintendent
Anthony R. Ripepi . . . . . . .Secretary/Treasurer

The last Mine Safety and Health Administration regular Safety and Health Inspection was completed March 15, 1995.


On Tuesday, July 25, 1995, James Balsley, equipment operator/laborer, began his shift at 7:00 a.m. Balsley, along with Robert Rugg, bulldozer operator, and Harry R. Morrison, front-end loader operator, were assigned the duties of removing logs from an area that was scheduled for mining. The logs were trees that had previously been cut and the limbs removed.

At approximately 7:10 a.m., Morrison connected one end of a 5/8 inch chain, 25 feet in length, to the first log to be moved. He then connected the other end of the chain to the blade tilt jack of the Caterpillar D9G bulldozer. After completing the connection, Morrison and Balsley moved back several feet to a location they considered safe. Morrison, using hand signals, instructed Rugg to raise the bulldozer blade and pull the log. As the bulldozer started to move in reverse, Morrison suggested to Balsley that he walk to the area where the logs were to be placed and disconnect the chain from each log that was moved. Morrison said he would remain at the original location and make all connections. Balsley agreed with Morrison and started walking.

Rugg pulled the log approximately 40 feet when the end of the log, facing the bulldozer blade, struck a tree stump causing the free end of the log to raise approximately 4 feet off the ground and swing to the left side of the bulldozer.

Seeing this, Morrison yelled "watch out", and was yelling for Rugg to stop the bulldozer. Balsley did not move and was struck along his left side and in the back, by the log. Rugg, who was facing the direction of travel, did not see the log swinging and did not hear Morrison yelling. Morrison ran to the bulldozer and signaled Rugg to stop. Rugg stopped the bulldozer and Morrison entered the cab, informed him of what happened, and told him to go to the shop to call an ambulance. Morrison checked Balsley for injuries. Finding a small laceration on the left side of his forehead and not knowing if Balsley had any fractures, he instructed Balsley to lay flat until help arrived. Morrison stated that Balsley was conscious, complaining of chest pain, and was asking what happened.

Rugg, using his pick-up truck, traveled to the mine shop approximately 300 feet away and instructed Charles Miller, shop mechanic, to call an ambulance. He then traveled to the 001 pit and informed Richard A. Ripepi, Vice President/Superintendent, of the occurrence. Ripepi and Rugg traveled to the accident site to assist Morrison with first aid. At 7:36 a.m., an ambulance from Saltlick Township arrived. Balsley was examined and treated by a paramedic and EMT from the ambulance service and flown from the mine site by STAT helicopter to Mercy Hospital, Pittsburgh, Pa. where he was diagnosed and treated for five fractured ribs (left side) and a broken left collar bone.

Based on the extent of the injuries and a preliminary report from the hospital, the mine operator did not consider these injuries life threatening, therefore MSHA was not notified immediately. The victim was scheduled to be released from the hospital on July 31, 1995. At 8:40 am., July 31, 1995, MSHA was notified by the mine operator that Balsley's condition had worsened, due to the retention of fluid in the lungs which necessitated placing him on a ventilator. The investigation started on July 31, 1995.

On August 14, 1995, James Balsley died due to complications from the injuries sustained on July 25, 1995.


The investigation revealed the following factors relevant to the occurrence:

  1. The accident occurred on July 25, 1995. The investigation did not start until July 31, 1995; therefore the accident scene was mined and the log was removed prior to the start of the investigation. Since all physical evidence was removed, all measurements are approximate and based on eyewitness accounts of the accident.

  2. The procedure for clearing future mining sites by mine employees at this mine includes felling the trees and removing the limbs of the trees. The resultant logs, which are sold to a local lumber mill, are then moved with a Caterpillar D9G bulldozer to a location along the roadway for pickup.

  3. The log involved in the accident was approximately 25 feet long, with a diameter of 18 inches at one end and tapering to 10 inches diameter at the other end.

  4. The log was connected to the blade tilt jack of a Caterpillar D9G bulldozer using a 5/8 inch chain, 25-feet long.

  5. The tree stump was approximately 18 inches in diameter and protruded 2 feet above ground level.

  6. The total distance the log had to be moved was 120 feet. The log was moved 40 feet from it's original location when the accident occurred.

  7. The method used for moving the log was the normal process used at the mine and the three miners involved were experienced at this task.

  8. At the time of the accident the mine operator did not consider the injuries life threatening, and based on his understanding of 30 CFR, 50.2 and 50.10, did not notify MSHA immediately. On July 31, 1995, the mine operator was informed by family members of the condition of the victim and notified MSHA of the occurrence.


The accident occurred when a log, being pulled along the ground by a bulldozer, became caught against a tree stump. This caused the log to be raised off the ground, and swing to the left side of the bulldozer, striking the victim, James Balsley, in the back and on the left side of his body.


There were no violations of 30 CFR observed during the investigation.

Respectfully Submitted by:

William D. Sparvieri, Jr.
Coal Mine Safety and Health Inspector

Approved by:

Joseph J. Garcia
District Manager--Coal Mine Safety
and Health District 2

Related Fatal Alert Bulletin:
Fatal Alert Bulletin Icon [FAB95C25]