DEPARTMENT OF LABOR
MINE SAFETY AND HEALTH ADMINISTRATION
ACCIDENT INVESTIGATION REPORT
(SURFACE COAL MINE)
FATAL EXPLOSIVES ACCIDENT
APPALACHIAN MINING SERVICES
CONTRACTOR I. D. ZPJ
BIG CREEK MINING, INC.
MINE NO. 2 (I. D. 15-17491)
FEDSCREEK, PIKE COUNTY, KENTUCKY
FEBRUARY 15, 1999
Originating Office - Coal Mine Safety and Health Administration
100 Ratliff Creek Road, Pikeville, Kentucky 41501
Carl E. Boone, II, District Manager
Big Creek Mining, Inc., Mine No. 2 is located on Third Fork of Big Creek off State Route 194E near Fedscreek, Pike County, Kentucky. Terry C. Marshal is the sole officer of the corporation.
The mining operation consists of one pit utilizing dozers, front-end loaders, rock trucks, and rotary highwall drills. The mine produces coal from the Middle Whitesburg coal seam using contour mining methods. The mining procedures involve drilling, blasting, removing overburden, removing the coal, backfilling of overburden and returning the topography to the approximate original contour. Coal is transported by trucks to Big Creek Mining, Inc. No. 2, a company owned loadout facility, located approximately three miles from the active pit.
Mining was occurring on primarily private-owned property leased from individuals including Dewey E. Smith, victim.
Appalachian Mining Services, an independent contractor, ( Contractor ID. NO. ZPJ) is contracted to charge drill holes and to detonate explosives at the mine.
The mine currently employs 46 persons on two 10-hour shifts per day. The first shift starts at 6:00 am and ends at 4:00 PM. The second shift starts at 5:00 PM and ends at 3:00 am. Maintenance is conducted between shifts and on-shift as needed and/or scheduled. The mine operates five or six days-per-week and produces an average of 3,000 tons of coal per day.
The last complete health and safety inspection of the mine conducted by the Mine Safety and Health Administration was completed on September 30, 1998.
DESCRIPTION OF ACCIDENT
On Monday, February 15,1999, at approximately 6:00 am, the first shift crew consisting of 23 employees of Big Creek Mining Inc., and five employees of the independent contractor, Appalachian Mining Services (AMS), began the daily production shift. Kenneth Short, first shift foreman, issued instructions and assigned work duties.
At approximately 8:00 am drilling began on a drill bench known as the " Shale Rock Binder" located on a point above the Middle Whitesburg coal seam. A second area was drilled into the toe area, originally left as a buffer, at the end of the point. Drilling was completed at approximately 11:30 am and the drill was moved to another location at the mine. The drill holes were then loaded for blasting. When the loading was complete, the two shots were connected with a non-electric detonating system. The blasting crew then moved the explosives bulk truck away from the loaded shot and waited for orders to detonate it. Short observed the explosives bulk truck leave the shot area and informed the blasting crew he would block the road in the direction of the 001 section (992 Caterpillar front-end loader spread) at the east end of the pit. A warning was sounded five minutes prior to the blast using the factory equipped horn of a 1995 Ford F-250 pick-up truck. Short stated that prior to the blast being detonated, he conducted an examination of the blast area and the access road (trail) leading up the side of the mountain. He stated he did not observe anyone in the area. The trunk line was then laid to a point at the right of the shot. From this area, an additional warning was sounded one minute prior to the blast using the same truck horn. Short instructed Paul Damron and Michael Salyers, certified blasters for AMS, to detonate the shot.
Dewey Smith, property owner and victim, had ridden an all-terrain vehicle (ATV) from his residence located on Ashlick Fork of Smith Fork, up-grade, on an access roadway (trail) on his property. Smith parked his ATV approximately 100 feet from the edge of the blast area and was walking in the area of the shot. At 2:53 PM, the charged holes were detonated.
John Smith, Paul Smith, and Marty Smith, eyewitnesses to the accident and residents of the Ashlick Fork community and neighbors of the victim, stated that the victim used this access road (trail) on a daily basis to visit the mine site. They also stated on the day of the accident they heard the victim start the ATV and observed him as he traveled up this access road (trail). The eyewitnesses stated they heard the warning signals from their vantage position, but on this day, the signals sounded different. They stated the victim parked his ATV approximately 100 feet from the edge of the blast area and was walking in the area of the shot when the charged holes were detonated. The eyewitnesses stated they could not observe the victim following the blast and the clearing of the raised dust. The citizens stated they soon heard another ATV start and observed the victim's son, Gary Smith, riding up the access road (trail) on his own ATV. They stated they observed the son park his ATV near the same spot as the other ATV. They observed the son walk up the hill for a short distance and then turned and ran back to his ATV. They stated the son then came back to the bottom of the mountain.
Gary Smith, the victim's son, stated that this shot sounded louder than previous shots in this area and proceeded on his own ATV up the trail to check on his father. Upon finding his father's body, Gary Smith proceeded onto the mine site looking for help. Observing no one in the area, he immediately returned to his residence. Sherry Mayhorn, niece of the victim and neighbor, placed a telephone call to Emergency 911 advising the dispatcher of an ATV accident near the head of Ashlick Fork of Smith Fork. At 3:22 PM Phelps Fire Department, Inc. received a call from the E-911 dispatcher informing them of the accident. Jeff (Sid) Lester, fireman/emergency medical technician, responded to the call. When Lester arrived at the Smith residence he met Mrs. Carol Smith, wife of the victim. Mrs. Smith advised him that her husband had wrecked on a four-wheeler(ATV). Lester asked her if anyone was attending her husband. Mrs. Smith stated that her son was with him. Lester proceeded in the direction of the accident. En route, he met the victim's son and asked him if his dad was hurt. Gary Smith replied he thought his father was dead. Lester proceeded to the accident site and secured the scene. He checked the victim for vital signs but none were found. Lester then had the E-911 dispatcher contact Big Creek Mining officials and instructed them to cease all blasting operations in the area after observing blasted rocks in close proximity to the victim. Law enforcement officials and mine personnel were subsequently dispatched to the site. The accident scene was re- secured by the Kentucky State Police. Charles Morris, Pike County Coroner, was summoned to the scene, where he pronounced the victim dead at 6:00 PM.
James Hager, Supervisory Coal Mine Safety and Health Inspector, of the MSHA Elkhorn City, Kentucky field office learned of an accident via a scanner and phone calls from citizens in the area. It was not known at the time whether the accident was on mine property and whether it was mine related. Simultaneously, John South, Supervisory Special Investigator, of the MSHA District Office, was notified at his residence via telephone by the dispatcher at the Kentucky State Police, Post 9, located in Pikeville, Kentucky, that an accident, resulting in a death, had occurred on or near a surface mine.
INVESTIGATION OF ACCIDENT
An investigation of the accident began at approximately 4:20 PM, February 15, 1999, after notification by residents of the area and the Kentucky State Police, and contact with Donald Kitts, mine manager, that some type of incident had either occurred at the mine or near the mine site. Kitts did not know if the accident was mine related based upon the information known at the time. Michael Wolford, Coal Mine Safety and Health Inspector/Accident Investigator, was contacted and traveled to the mine site and met with mine officials, officials from the Kentucky Department of Mine and Minerals, and the Kentucky State Police and learned that the accident was, in fact, mine related. The area was cordoned off by the Kentucky State Police, upon arrival, until they determined that foul play was not involved.
PHYSICAL FACTORS INVOLVED IN THE ACCIDENT
The investigation revealed the following factors relevant to the occurrence of the accident:
- The property being mined at this location was owned by Dewey Smith, victim. The
access road (trail) from the victim's house to the mine site was frequently used by the victim. Information from persons interviewed revealed the victim made frequent
unannounced visits to the mine site, and had conversations with employees of the
production operator and the independent contractor providing blasting services for the production operator. The victim also had a primitive camp site located on the spur and in close proximity to the blast area. A stove, several blocks of coal, a chair and a mattress indicated this camp site had been used often.
- The weather was dry and clear with a temperature of approximately 50 degrees F. at the time of the accident.
- An examination of the Ford F-250 pickup truck horns revealed that one of two factory-equipped electro mechanical horns located under the hood was being used at the time of the accident. The low pitch horn was operational. The high pitch horn was found to be disconnected at the time of the investigation.
- Tests were conducted on the sounding horn that was used at the time of the accident. The "1-horn" signal was difficult to hear on the access road and almost inaudible from the witness' location and victim residence (based upon each person's hearing ability). This was substantiated by recorded data.
- Kenneth Short, foreman for Big Creek Mining, Inc., stated he examined the shot area and observed the access road (trail) approximately five minutes prior to the blast and did not observe anyone in the area. The investigation revealed that no one was posted along the access road nor were the blasters located where they could observe the access road prior to and at the time the shot was detonated.
- Charles Morris, Pike County Coroner, attributed the cause of death to blunt injury of
head, trunk and extremities, with skeletal and visceral injuries (communicated skull
fractures and lacerations of the heart due to the blast's effects).
- The blast was a normal production blast and consisted of two separate shots. The "binder" shot consisted of 164 holes drilled 6.75 inches in diameter to a depth of 13 feet. The perimeter shot consisted of 48 holes drilled 6.75 inches in diameter to a depth of 23 feet. The blast holes were drilled on a 13- foot x 15-foot pattern. A total of 13,010 pounds of explosives were detonated.
The accident occurred because the production operator and the independent contractor failed to provide ample warning, and failed to clear and remove all persons from the blasting site prior to detonating the blast on February 15, 1999, at 2:53 p.m. Failure to do this resulted in the death of the owner of the property, who had walked into the blast area shortly before the blast was detonated.
- 103 (k) Order No. 4005517 was issued to Big Creek Mining Inc. Mine No 2. to ensure the safety of all miners working the area.
- 104 (d)(1) Citation No. 7350318 was issued to Big Creek Mining Inc. The production operator failed to clear and remove all persons from the blast area on February 15, 1999. As the result of this failure, Dewey Smith, an adjacent property owner, walked into the blast area shortly before the blast was detonated.
- A 104 (d)(1) Order No. 7351323 was issued to Big Creek Mining Inc. The production
operator failed to ensure the independent contractor providing blasting services at the Mine No.2 site provided ample warning to all persons in the blasting area prior to
detonating a blast at 2:53 PM on February 15, 1999. Failure to give ample warning
resulted in the death of an adjacent property owner when he walked into the blast area shortly before the shot was detonated.
- A 104 (d)(1) Citation No. 7353190 was issued to Appalachian Mining Services,
independent contractor providing blasting services at Mine No. 2, for failure to clear and remove all persons from the blast area before the shot was detonated. As the result of this failure, an adjacent property owner received fatal injuries when he walked into the blast area when a shot was detonated on February 15, 1999.
- A 104 (d)(1) Order No.7351322 was issued to Appalachian Mining Services, independent contractor providing blasting services at Mine No. 2 site, for failure to give ample warning to all persons in the blasting area prior to detonating a shot at 2:53 PM on February 15, 1999. Failure to give ample warning resulted in the death of an adjacent property owner who had walked into the blast area shortly before the shot was detonated.
Carl E. Boone, II
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