MINE SAFETY AND HEALTH ADMINISTRATION
Metal and Nonmetal Mine Safety and Health
Accident Investigation Report
Surface Nonmetal Mine
Fatal Machinery Accident
Lehigh Portland Cement Company
Leeds, Jefferson County, Alabama
I.D. No. 01-00043
March 29, 1999
Donald B. Craig
Supervisory Mine Safety and Health Inspector
Donald R. Baker
Mine Safety and Health Inspector
Stanley J. Michalek
Darren J. Blank
Mine Safety and Health Administration
135 Gemini Circle, Suite 212
Birmingham, Alabama 35209
Robert E. Falkner, equipment operator, age 61, was fatally injured at about 10:10 a.m. on March 29, 1999, when a rock fell from a highwall and struck the excavator he was operating. Falkner had a total of 26 years mining experience, all at this mine. He had worked as an equipment operator in the quarry for 2 years, 9 months. He had not received training in accordance with 30 CFR, Part 48.
MSHA was notified at 10:40 a.m. on the day of the accident by a telephone call from the production supervisor for the mining company. An investigation was started the same day.
The Leeds Plant, a quarry and cement milling operation, owned and operated by Lehigh Portland Cement Company, was located in Leeds, Jefferson County, Alabama. The principal operating official was Robert J. Sagmeister, plant manager. The mine was normally operated one, 10-hour shift a day, 4 days a week. The mill was normally operated three, 8-hour shifts a day, 7 days a week. A total of 143 persons was employed.
Limestone was drilled and blasted from multiple benches in the quarry. Broken material was hauled by truck to the plant where it was crushed, screened, and sized, then conveyed to the mill where it was blended, ground into powder and processed through the kiln. The product was then conveyed to the finish grinding mills, where gypsum was added to produce portland cement before being conveyed to storage silos. The finished product was stored in silos and sold for use in the construction industries.
The last regular inspection of this operation was completed on January 28, 1999. Another inspection was conducted at the conclusion of this investigation.
The accident occurred at the quarry highwall on the No. 530 bench. A clay seam in the highwall had interfered with previous attempts to blast, resulting in loose and fractured rock being left in the wall. The seam measured about 40 feet high and varied in width from about 4 to 10 feet. The depth of the seam could not be determined. A block of limestone that had been drilled and blasted in December 1998, was being removed. The shot material was highly fractured. However, a nearly vertical highwall was present. An adjacent block of limestone that had been shot in mid-March 1999, had already been loaded out. This left a gap approximately 135 feet wide in the 575 bench on the southeast side of the quarry and essentially left two highwalls. The first being the overall pit highwall which was approximately 95 feet high and the second being the highwall of the block of material being mined at the time of the accident.
The block being removed was approximately 200 feet long, 75 feet deep, and 40 feet high. At the rear of this block, at the intersection of the two highwalls, was a nearly vertical block which varied in width from approximately 4 to 10 feet and ran nearly parallel to the southeast wall of the quarry. It was reported that this was the first instance of finding clay in such a distinguished vein.
The equipment involved in the accident was a track-mounted Komatsu PC400LC-6 excavator manufactured in 1998. It was equipped with a 2.38 cubic-yard-bucket. The maximum digging reach was 39.4 feet with the boom horizontal and the reach was approximately 26 feet with the boom in its maximum raised position.
The excavator was positioned against the highwall on the 530 bench with the bucket extended into the clay vein. The front edge of the tracks were approximately 13 feet from the highwall. The distance from the operator's cab to the face was approximately 28 feet. The boom was raised to approximately 45 degrees from horizontal and the excavator arm was fully extended. The bucket was caked with mud. As viewed from the operator's cab, the exterior left side of the bucket showed markings from where it had scraped the highwall adjacent to the clay vein. Two locations on the arm and boom showed signs of damage from the rock that fell on the cab. The tilt cylinder located on the machine's arm was scraped and the left side of the arm near the arm/boom connection point was dented.
The cab was severely damaged. Approximately 18 inches of the roof's front edge was deflected downward into the operator's compartment. The left side front window frame was dented and bent outward. The windshield was shattered and a portion of the glass and frame fell to the ground in front of the cab. Various controls inside the cab were also damaged.
The rock that fell on the cab was approximately 48 inches long, 32 inches wide, and 24 inches thick. The estimated weight of the rock was 2,700 pounds.
The weather on the day of the accident was clear and warm.
On the day of the accident, Robert Falkner (victim) reported for work at 7:00 a.m., his normal starting time. He and Jimmy Banks, front-end loader operator, and Cole Pickett, rock-breaker operator, went to the 530 bench to begin the day's work. Falkner separated rock and mud from the toe of the highwall. Banks moved the larger rocks to an area where Pickett would break them. After Falkner had separated enough good rock to be transported to the crusher, he repositioned the excavator and began removing mud from the seam in the highwall while Banks loaded trucks.
At about 10:00 a.m., Joseph Trujillo, quarry foreman, arrived at the area and talked with Falkner and Pickett. Trujillo instructed Pickett to move the rock breaker about 30 yards from where Falkner was working and then Trujillo left the area.
At about 10:10 a.m., Banks had finished loading a truck and looked toward the excavator and saw the boulder fall from the highwall. The rock struck the bucket, was deflected onto the forward section of the boom and then struck the cab. Banks immediately drove the loader to the quarry office to summon help. He passed Pickett on the way and told him to check on Falkner. Banks arrived at the office and reported the accident to Trujillo. Trujillo had someone call the local 911 emergency assistance number and then went to the accident site.
Pickett found Falkner in the excavator and checked for a pulse, but was unable to find one. Since loose rock was still falling, there was no attempt to extricate the victim until cables could be attached to the excavator and it could be pulled away from the highwall. Emergency medical personnel arrived and were unable to detect a pulse. The county coroner was summoned and the victim was pronounced dead at the scene a short time later.
The direct cause of the accident was failure to adequately examine, identify and remove loose rock from the highwall before commencing other work.
Order number 7760348 was issued on March 29, 1999, under the provision of Section 103(k) of the Mine Act:
A fatal accident occurred at this operation at about 10:10 a.m. on March 29, 1999, when an excavator operator was cleaning mud from a mud slip in the quarry east wall. A rock fell from the quarry wall and struck the cab and windshield of the excavator. The rock went through the excavator windshield and struck the operator, causing fatal injuries. This order is issued to assure the safety of persons at this operation until the mine or affected areas can be returned to normal operations as determined by an authorized representative of the Secretary. The operator shall obtain approval from an authorized representative for all actions to recover persons, equipment, and/or restore operations in the affected area.Citation number 7771989 was issued on April 13, 1999, under the provisions of Section 104(d) (1) for violation of 30 CFR 56.3401:
An excavator operator was fatally injured at this operation on March 29, 1999, when a rock fell from the highwall, traveled down the boom and through the windshield of the excavator. The victim was removing a vertical mud seam from the highwall when the rock fell. The highwall was blasted on December 31, 1998, and had not been examined for loose ground before work was commenced in the area. Failure to examine the highwall demonstrates a serious lack of reasonable care which constitutes more than ordinary negligence and is an unwarrantable failure to comply with a mandatory safety standard.
This citation was terminated on April 13, 1999. The assistant plant manager has been designated by the mine operator to examine and test ground conditions in all areas of the highwall where work is to be performed. He will inspect the area before work commences and as ground conditions change. The quarry supervisor and other quarry employees have been instructed on proper examination of highwalls. Others are to be trained in the immediate future. A geologist was enlisted to explain the quarry's unique rock strata and how to work with it.
Order number 7771990 was issued on April 13, 1999, under the provisions of Section 104(d) (1) violation of 30 CFR 56.3200:
An excavator operator was fatally injured at this operation on March 29, 1999, when a rock fell from the highwall, traveled down the boom and through the windshield of the excavator. The victim was removing a vertical mud seam from the highwall when the rock fell. The highwall was blasted on December 31, 1998, and loose ground had not been taken down or supported before work was permitted in the area. Failure to scale loose ground is a serious lack of reasonable care which constitutes more than ordinary negligence and is an unwarrantable failure to comply with a mandatory safety standard.Order number 7771991 was issued on April 13, 1999, under the provisions of Section 104(d)(1) for violation of 30 CFR 56.18002(b):
A review of work place examination records indicated that the working places had been examined by the quarry supervisor on duty at the time. However, the quarry supervisor on duty stated that he had no knowledge of the examination log, or who had placed his initials on that log indicating that an examination had been made. Failure to properly instruct employees in the use and documentation of the examination log is a lack of reasonable care constituting more than ordinary negligence and is an unwarrantable failure to comply with a mandatory standard.This order was terminated on April 13, 1999. The mine operator developed a workplace examination form and has instructed appropriate persons in the proper completion of the form.
Related Fatal Alert Bulletin:
Drawing of Accident Scene
List of Persons Present During the Investigation
Lehigh Portland Cement Company
Robert J. Sagmeister ..................... plant manager
Richard I. King ..................... assistant plant manager
Dan Braun ..................... vice president human resources
Kenneth A. Bailey ..................... safety and training manager
Frank J. Trujillo ..................... quarry foreman
Joel Yeager..................... civil engineer, member safety committee
Alan Schlenker ..................... process manager, member safety committee
Local 108 Allied Industrial, Chemical and Energy Workers International Union
Jeffrey Brasher ..................... vice president
Charles G. Armstrong ..................... safety committeeman
Ira M. Armstrong, Jr. .....................safety committeeman
Jimmy Banks ..................... front-end loader operator
Cole R. Pickett .....................rock breaker operator
Wayne Burkhalter .....................material handler/equipment attendant
Robert C. Molloy ..................... operations utility person
PACE International Union
David W. Ortlieb ..................... director of safety and health department
Larry G. Myers ..................... international representative
Deborah Hayes ..................... international representative
State of Alabama Department of Mines and Minerals
Jerry L. Scharf ..................... chief state mine inspector
Gary D. Key .....................state mine inspector
Local Police Department
Sgt. Grady L. Collier, Jr ...................... investigator
Mine Safety and Health Administration
Donald B. Craig ..................... supervisory mine inspector
Donald R. Baker ..................... mine safety and health inspector
Stanley J. Michalek ..................... civil engineer
Darren J. Blank ..................... civil engineer