Skip to content

Metal and Nonmetal Mine Safety and Health

Surface Nonmetal Mine (Granite)

Fatal Powered Haulage
Mt. Airy Mine and Mill, I.D. No. 31-00037
The N.C. Granite Corporation
Mt. Airy, Surry County, North Carolina

May 10, 1999


Clarence F. Holiway
Mine Safety and Health Inspector

Bonnie L. Armstrong
Mine Safety and Health Inspector

Stanley J. Michalek, P.E.
Civil Engineer

Originating Office
U.S. Department of Labor
Mine Safety and Health Administration
Southeastern District
135 Gemini Circle, Suite 212;
Birmingham, AL 35209

Martin Rosta,
District Manager


On May 10, 1999, Homer R. Owens, laborer, age 60, was seriously injured. He died on May 11, 1999, as a result of his injuries. Owens was working with two forklift operators to remove a block of granite from the quarry wall. When the block of granite was moved, it freed a piece of fractured material that fell on Owens, crushing him.

The accident occurred as a result of the fractured granite not being scaled down or supported.

Owens had a total of 22 years mining experience as a laborer, all with this company, at this mine. He had received training in accordance with 30 CFR, Part 48.


The Mt. Airy Mine and Mill, a surface dimension stone operation, owned and operated by The N.C. Granite Corporation, was located along State Highway 103 E, within the city limits of Mt. Airy, Surry County, North Carolina. The principal operating official was Don Shelton, chief operating official. The quarry normally operated one 8-hour shift a day, 5 days a week. The mill normally operated two 12-hour shifts a day, 7 days a week. Total employment was 100 persons.

Large blocks of granite were mined by drilling closely spaced vertical holes approximately 10 feet deep, to a natural seam. Black powder and prima cord were used to free the blocks. This process was repeated to subdivide blocks into smaller sizes. The blocks were loaded onto flatbed trucks by forklifts and transported to the saw shed to be sized and polished. The product was used for building stone and monuments. Waste material was crushed, screened, stockpiled and sold for decorating rock.

The last regular inspection of this operation was completed February 11, 1999. Another inspection was conducted at the conclusion of this investigation.


On the day of the accident, Homer Owens, (victim) reported for work at 7:00 a.m., his normal starting time. He, along with Tony Roberts, leadman, and Keith Craddock, laborer, were assigned as the ledger crew to work with Billy McCraw and Wade Keith, forklift operators, to remove blocks of granite from the north state area of the quarry.

Bobby Gwyn, quarry foreman, met with the ledger crew about 7:30 a.m. and warned the employees to stay clear of the fractured rock until the blocks of granite could be removed and the loose rock taken down.

Work progressed normally and several blocks had been removed without incident. At approximately 9:45 a.m., they started working on the 5x10x10 foot block, which was adjacent to the cracked wall. They had split the block in half horizontally. Grayson Montgomery, assistant quarry foreman, helped remove the top block. Montgomery stated that there was no movement in the fractured wall after the top block had been removed and no attempt was made to take down the loose rock. Montgomery observed Owens leaning on a rock near the cracked quarry wall and told him to move back away from the wall, which he did. Montgomery instructed the entire crew to stay clear of the cracked wall and left the area.

McCraw and Keith began working on the bottom block. Keith pried the block with the forks and stopped the forklift when he was able to raise it enough to allow Owens to place a wedge. Owens went to the block, between Keith and the block, and inserted a wedge. Owens then moved back out of the way. McCraw and Keith continued to raise the block until McCraw was able to position the forks completely under it. When McCraw was ready to move the block, Keith backed his forklift out of the way and at the same time saw Owens to his side, walking toward the fractured wall. As McCraw pulled the block away from the wall, Keith saw the slab of granite fall from the wall, striking Owens on the chest and legs.

Keith, along with McCraw and Dan Gates, front-end loader operator, ran to Owens and removed the broken slab of rock. Local emergency medical personnel were notified and arrived a short time later. Owens was transported to a local hospital, then air lifted to a hospital in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. He died on May 11, 1999, as a result of trauma to the upper torso.


At about 11:15 a.m., on May 10, 1999, Martin Rosta, Southeastern District Manager of MSHA's District Office, Birmingham, Alabama, was notified of the accident by a telephone call from David Vernon, safety director for the mining company. On May 12, 1999, Rosta was notified that Owens died on May 11, from his injuries. MSHA conducted an investigation with the assistance of mine management and the miners. Miners were represented by the United Brotherhood of Carpenters and Jointers Union, who participated in the investigation.


1. The accident occurred in the north state area of the quarry where blocks of granite were being removed. Blocks were split from the solid mass by using vertical drill holes and blasted with primer cord to create a 5x10x10 foot block. This block was then split horizontally by the same method, resulting in two 5x5x10 foot blocks. Blocks were removed from the wall by using two forklifts.

2. Forklifts being used at the time of the accident were a 1993 Taylor model number TE-330M, and a 1998 Taylor model number THD-330M, each with a rated lifting capacity of 16-� tons.

3. The bottom block of granite being removed at the time of the accident measured approximately 5 feet, 4 inches high, 5 feet thick and 10 feet wide. The block weighed about 22 tons.

4. Granite was chipped away at the bottom of the blocks to allow the forklifts operating on the side and front of the block to partially lift it. Wedges were placed under the block, as needed, to provide a space for the forklift operators to raise the block so that one of the forklifts could be positioned to get the forks all the way under the block.

5. The quarry wall that the slab of rock fell from was 10 feet, 8 inches high. About 10 days prior to the accident a crack in the wall was created when the granite mass was shot with primer cord to separate the block for removal from the quarry wall. The fractured rock was held in place by the bottom block of granite.

6. According to witnesses, the victim was about 5 to 6 feet from the quarry wall when the accident occurred. The slab that hit the victim was 8 feet, 4 inches high by 3 feet, 6 inches wide and varied in thickness from 1 foot, 6 inches to 1 inch and weighed approximately 1500 pounds.

7. The weather on the day of accident was clear, warm and the area dry.


The accident was caused by the fractured material not being scaled down or supported. The cracked section was identified by the quarry foreman as a possible hazard several days prior to the accident. The failure of management to initiate action to remove or support this rock was the root cause of the accident.


Citation number 7777318 was issued on May 13, 1999, under the provisions of Section 104(a) for violation of 30 CFR 56.3200 :
A laborer was fatally injured at this operation on May 10, 1999 when he was struck by a slab of rock that fell from the quarry wall. A block of granite had been drilled, split in the middle, and the top half removed. When the bottom half of the block was removed a slab fell from the wall striking the victim.
This citation was terminated on June 10, 1999. A plan, in writing was instituted by the company and was reviewed with the employees in the pit to prohibit work in an area where loose materials are detected on existing corners when sawblocks are being removed. The loose material will be removed and in cases where the loose material cannot be removed, cones, caution tape or some other means will be used to mark the hazardous area.

Related Fatal Alert Bulletin:
Fatal Alert Bulletin Icon FAB99M17


Persons participating in the investigation:

The N.C. Granite Corporation
David Vernon .................... safety director
Bobby Gwyn .................... quarry foreman
Grayson Montgomery .................... assistant quarry foreman
Tony Roberts .................... crew leader
Billy McCraw .................... fork lift operator
Wade Keith .................... fork lift operator
Arless Dalton .................... drill operator
Dan Gates .................... front end loader operator
Donnie Jones .................... inventory man

United Brotherhood of Carpenters and Jointers Union Local 8222-T
Burnard Allen .................... union president

Mine Safety and Health Administration
Clarence F. Holiway .................... mine safety and health inspector
Bonnie L. Armstrong .................... mine safety and health inspector
Stanley J. Michalek, P.E. .................... civil engineer


Persons Interviewed
Bobby Gwyn .................... quarry foreman
Grayson Montgomery .................... assistant quarry foreman
Tony Roberts .................... crew leader
Billy McCraw .................... fork lift operator
Wade Keith .................... fork lift operator
Arless Dalton .................... drill operator
Dan Gates .................... front end loader operator
Donnie Jones .................... inventory man