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MSHA - Fatal Investigation Report


District 10




OCTOBER 24, 1996





At approximately 1:40 p.m., on Thursday, October 24, 1996, a fatal machinery accident occurred at Island Creek Coal Company's Ohio 11 mine.

Danny Wesmoland, preparation plant foreman, was installing a connector link in the shuttle belt conveyor drive sprocket chain when the conveyor drive motor accidentally started. The victim was fatally injured when he was pulled through an opening in the metal framework of the conveyor drive.

The fatality occurred because Wesmoland failed to remove the power at the disconnecting device to prevent movement of the conveyor drive before removing the guards from around the drive sprocket and roller and beginning work.


The Island Creek Coal Company's Ohio 11 mine began mining the Kentucky No. 11 coal seam in March of 1971, near Uniontown in Union County, Kentucky. The mine can be entered at the new portal located on Hilltop Road, or the old portal located on Highway 360. The new portal consists of one slope, one shaft, mine offices, and a supply yard. The old portal consists of an intake slope, a belt slope, a return shaft, and a preparation plant. Coal is extracted by the use of continuous mining machines on three working sections, producing 6000 tons of coal daily on two shifts, with one maintenance shift. The mine provides employment for 156 persons, 28 of whom are employed on the surface.

An overland conveyor belt transports coal from the preparation plant to the barge loading facility located on the Ohio river. This overland belt deposits coal on the shuttle belt which conveys it into barges for transportation.

The principal officials of Island Creek Coal Company, Ohio 11 mine are as follows:
Wes McDonald.....................Executive Vice President
Ron Wooten..........................Vice President Health and Safety
Bruce Beaven........................Superintendent
Kit C. Pharis.........................Manager of Safety

A Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) inspection (AAA) was started September 30, 1996, and was ongoing at the time of the accident.


On October 24, 1996, at 8:00 a.m., the barge loading crew consisting of Jerold Gibson, loadout operator; George Benton, dock hand; and Danny Stone, boat pilot; reported to work at the old portal bathhouse. The men were assigned work activities at the barge loading facilities located on the Ohio River by Larry Harris, preparation plant foreman. They arrived at the loading facilities at 8:30 a.m., and began normal loading activities. Danny Wesmoland (victim), general plant foreman, arrived while the first barge was being loaded and, after talking to Gibson about the need to replace the chain and sprocket on the shuttle belt conveyor drive the upcoming Saturday, Wesmoland left the site.

Gibson began loading the third barge at 12:10 p.m. Toward the end of the loading cycle, he noticed that the shuttle belt had stopped and the light on the side of the motor control building was on, which indicated the overland belt was running. He pushed the stop switches on the master control panel, stopping the overland belt and feeder. Gibson then left the barge control room and walked to the shuttle belt conveyor drive to determine what had caused the belt to stop. Upon arrival, Gibson found that the drive sprocket chain had broken and was lying on the ground.

Gibson returned to the control room to telephone Wesmoland, who drove to the loading facilities to determine what parts were needed to repair the sprocket chain.

It was determined that a master link was needed to repair the chain. Wesmoland instructed Gibson to have Stone notify the boat pilot that the loading facilities would not be in operation for a while. Wesmoland then pushed the stop switch located next to the drive motor and latched it in the open position which opened the control circuit. The electrical power was not de-energized at the circuit breaker inside the motor control center before repairs began. When Gibson returned to the conveyor drive, he found Mark Dossett, Commercial Testing and Engineering Company sampler, helping Wesmoland remove the guard from the sprocket side of the drive unit. George Benton arrived and helped Gibson and the other two men place the chain around the sprocket on the conveyor belt roller and the motor drive sprocket. In placing the chain around the sprocket, Dossett and Gibson supported the chain between the two sprockets while Benton held the chain in position on the motor drive sprocket.

Wesmoland then climbed onto the metal framework on the left side of the conveyor drive sprocket, placed his right leg against the inside of the sprocket, and inserted the connector link into the chain. While swinging the hammer in an underhanded motion in order to drive the link into the chain from the backside of the sprocket, Wesmoland supported himself by placing his left hand on the top conveyor belt. While this process was underway, the stop switch latching device inadvertently released. This enabled the switch to close and energize the M1 contacts, causing the belt drive system to suddenly begin operating. Wesmoland's arm became entangled between the belt and the conveyor roller, pulling him through an opening in the metal framework of the belt drive. Stone arrived just as the belt started and heard Wesmoland call for someone to knock the power. Stone rushed to the end of the conveyor drive, pushed and relatched the stop switch in the open position, which immediately stopped the conveyor drive.

Benton, who is a certified EMT, crawled beneath the framework to Wesmoland's side and administered first aid while Stone contacted Larry Harris at the preparation plant via C.B. radio. Gibson immediately telephoned Ray Henry, preparation plant operator, to request an ambulance. Gibson and Stone returned to the scene and assisted Benton in administrating first aid to Wesmoland while Dossett left to direct the ambulance to the accident site. The Union County Ambulance received the call at 1:48 p.m., and arrived at the accident at 2:01 p.m. Wesmoland was transported to the Union County Hospital where he was pronounced dead at 4:15 p.m.


On Thursday, October 24, 1996, at 2:15 p.m., MSHA Supervisor James Hackney was notified of the accident by Manager of Safety Kit Pharis. MSHA Coal Mine Safety and Health Inspector Margaret Bishop and Electrical Inspector Curtis Haile arrived at the mine at 3:30 p.m., and began a joint investigation with the Kentucky Department of Mines and Minerals. Mine Safety and Health Supervisor Ted Smith and Electrical Inspector Michael Moore assisted with the investigation.

Management and hourly employees of Island Creek Coal Company also participated in the investigation.

The accident scene was examined, measurements and photographs were taken, and related equipment was examined. Interviews with individuals known to have knowledge of the facts surrounding the accident were conducted by MSHA and the Kentucky Department of Mines and Minerals at the Ohio 11 new portal on October 25.


Records established that training had been conducted in accordance with the requirements of 30 CFR, Part 48.


The investigation revealed the following factors relevant to the occurrence of the accident:
  1. At approximately 12:10 p.m., the conveyor drive sprocket chain on the shuttle belt located at the barge loading facility broke. When the conveyor belt stopped, the Hawkeye slip switch belt monitoring system opened the 480 volt control circuit, which opened the M1 line contactor causing the drive motor to stop.

  2. Prior to beginning repairs, Wesmoland pushed the spring- loaded stop switch located at the end of the conveyor drive and latched it into the open position. The electrical power to the conveyor drive was not disconnected at the circuit breaker to prevent the conveyor drive motor from restarting. This circuit breaker is located in the motor control center approximately 75 feet from the drive motor.

  3. The combination jog/stop switch assembly contained a mechanical latching device designed to prevent the stop switch from closing when the latching device is fully engaged.

  4. The 480 volt control circuit for the shuttle belt conveyor system was wired in a manner which allowed the conveyor to restart when the spring-loaded jog/stop switch closed. This wiring design contributed to the cause of the accident because a positive action of having to manually restart the conveyor was not required for operation.

  5. Prior to the accident, Wesmoland supported himself by holding to the top of the conveyor belt while working in close proximity to the conveyor drive's moveable parts which were dependent upon the position of the jog/stop switch.

  6. The latching device on the stop switch inadvertently released and closed the control circuit. This caused the drive system to operate, pulling the victim through an opening in the metal framework of the conveyor drive.

  7. MSHA's Approval and Certification Center (A&CC) tested the combination jog/stop switch and concluded that the switch operated properly. However, A&CC also found that when the latching lever was not fully engaged, the latching lever would release, allowing the switch to close and complete the circuit. See Appendix for summary of A&CC's test report.


Electrical power was not removed from the conveyor drive motor by disconnecting the circuit breaker located in the motor control building before beginning repairs. The accident occurred when the latching device on the jog/stop switch inadvertently released and the stop switch closed causing the conveyor drive to rotate, pulling the victim through an opening in the metal framework of the belt drive.


103(k) Order No. 4067357 was issued to Island Creek Coal Company to assure the safety of all persons in the affected area.

104(a) Citation No. 4068928 was issued for a violation of Section 77.404(c) because electrical power was not removed at the circuit breaker before work was performed on the shuttle belt conveyor drive.

Respectfully submitted by:

Margaret A. Bishop
Coal Mine Safety and Health Inspector
District 10

Approved by:

Rexford Music
District Manager, Coal Mine Safety and Health
District 10


Approval and Certification Center conducted an investigation of the stop/jog switch assembly involved in the fatal powered haulage accident at the Island Creek Coal Company, Ohio 11 Mine. The investigation included both visual and low power microscopic examinations as well as continuity determinations of the switch components.

The laboratory investigation determined both push-button switches to be electrically and mechanically efficient. When depressed and released, both push-buttons operated smoothly without any signs of binding. Low resistance paths were detected across the normally closed switch contacts, and across the normally open contacts with the push-button fully depressed. Resistance measurements confirmed the presence of an open circuit between the normally open contacts of the jog switch and between the normally closed stop switch contacts with the push-button fully depressed.

The stop switch push-button assembly has provisions for a sliding lever-type locking mechanism which enables the push-button to be held captive in a fully depressed position. The locking lever mechanism has a means for attaching a padlock or similar device to prevent inadvertant disengagement. The laboratory investigation revealed a potential for misapplication of the locking mechanism. The locking lever could be depressed, far enough for the stop switch contacts to open, and hold in this position without being fully seated and latched. Under this condition, the lever's ability to maintain the push-button contacts in an open position was erratic; as, the push-button was observed to become released and allow normally closed contacts to close, after a short period of time, without any external stimulus. The stop switch contacts did not close, however, when a padlock was inserted through the holes provided in the locking lever mechanism.

The laboratory investigation concluded that the stop and jog push-button switches operated properly, and that the sliding lever-type locking mechanism for the stop switch push-button could malfunction, if not properly engaged, and allow the push-button to release and the switch contacts to close without external stimulus.

Related Fatal Alert Bulletin:
Fatal Alert Bulletin Icon FAB96C27