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Surface Nonmetal Mine
(Dimension Granite)
Fatal Slip or Fall of Person Accident

Date of Accident: January 14, 2002
Date of Death: February 1, 2002

Worley Blue Quarry
Worley Blue Quarry
Elberton, Elberton County, Georgia
Mine I.D. No. 09-00076

Accident Investigators

Frederick B. Moore
Mine Safety and Health Inspector

Mitchell Adams
Supervisory Mine Safety and Health Inspector

Originating Office
Mine Safety and Health Administration
Southeast District
135 Gemini Circle, Suite 212; Birmingham, AL 35209
Martin Rosta, District Manager


James R. Thornton, ledge foreman, age 38, was seriously injured on January 14, 2002, when he fell 28 feet from the ledge on which he was working. Thornton died as a result of the injuries on February 1, 2002.

The accident was caused by the failure to wear a safety belt and line where there was a danger of falling.

Thornton had a total of 10 years mining experience, 18 weeks at this operation. He had received training in accordance with 30 CFR Part 46.


Worley Blue Quarry, a dimensional granite quarry, owned and operated by Worley Blue Quarry, was located on Ruckersville Road, approximately two miles north of Elberton, Elberton County, Georgia. The principal operating official was Eric Higginbotham, owner. The mine was normally operated one, 10-hour shift a day, four days a week. Total employment was 14 persons.

Granite blocks were cut by automated burners then drilled and broken into smaller various size blocks. The blocks were hoisted from the pit with a guy derrick and stockpiled and then transported by over-the-road trucks to finish mills in the local area. The final product was primarily used for burial monuments.

The last regular inspection at this operation was completed on January 8, 2002.


On the day of the accident, James R. Thornton (victim) reported to work at 7:00 a.m., his normal starting time. Thornton directed his crew of four employees to start drilling and pulling granite blocks from a ledge, which was 28 feet above the quarry floor. They had removed about five blocks from the ledge when Thornton told them to reposition the grout bucket so loose material could be cleaned up so that more blocks could be removed. The bucket was moved to the upper end of the ledge, about two feet from the edge. The crew started throwing material into the grout bucket. At about 1:15 p.m., Thornton went to the stairs and stood between the bucket and the steps that descended to the lower ledge. Two of the workers threw a large piece of grout into the bucket, causing it to shift position and move toward Thornton. When the bucket hit Thornton, it knocked him off the ledge, causing him to fall 28 feet to the quarry floor.

Medical assistance was summoned and upon their arrival Thornton was transported to a local hospital where he was stabilized before being airlifted to a hospital in Augusta, Georgia. Thornton remained in the hospital until his death on February 1, 2002. He died as a result of blunt trauma to the head.


MSHA was notified of the accident at 4:10 p.m. on January 14, 2002, by a telephone call from Eric Higginbotham, owner, to Mitchell Adams, supervisory mine safety and health inspector. An investigation was started the next day. MSHA's accident investigators traveled to the mine, made a physical inspection of the accident scene, interviewed employees, and reviewed conditions and work procedures relevant to the accident. MSHA conducted the investigation with the assistance of mine management and employees. The miners did not request nor have representation during the investigation.


  • The ledge where the accident occurred was started the week prior to the accident and measured 20 feet wide by 50 feet long and was 28 feet above the quarry floor.

  • The surface of the ledge was relatively level, smooth and dry. It was littered with waste rock, which was commonly called grout. There were no handrails or barriers on the outer edge of the ledge.

  • The ledge was accessed by a 6-foot portable ladder. A set of metal steps that descended to the lower ledge measured 25 feet and had a handrail on one side. The victim was standing on the ledge near the top of these steps when the accident occurred.

  • The grout bucket measured 8 feet by 7 feet and was constructed of �-inch rolled steel. It had wire ropes attached in three locations to enable employees to move it while working on the ledge. At the time of the accident, the bucket was positioned at the top of the stairs, about 2 feet back from the edge of the ledge. There was very little room for a person to stand between the stairs, the bucket and the ledge.

  • A toolbox on the ledge contained two safety belts that were wet, soiled, frayed, with the metal parts rusted. They did not appear to have been used recently. There was no other fall protection equipment on the ledge. Three safety harnesses with lanyards were located in the parts building located on the surface. Two of the three appeared to be new and unused. The victim had signed a company policy letter that required the use of safety belts.

  • Weather on the day of the accident was clear and calm with temperatures in the mid-sixties.


    The accident occurred because the grout bucket had been positioned near the ladder and the edge of the ledge, restricting the area where the victim was standing. When material was thrown into the unsecured bucket, it moved and struck the victim, causing him to fall. Contributing to the severity of the accident was the failure of the victim to wear a safety belt and line.


    Citation No. 6075455 was issued on January 15, 2002, and modified on February 7, 2002, under the provisions of Section 104(d) of the Mine Act for violation of standard 56.15005:

    On January 14, 2002, the ledge foreman sustained massive head trauma when he fell 28 feet from the working ledge to the quarry floor below. At the time of the accident, the foreman was not wearing fall protection. He died from his injuries on February 1, 2002. The owner/operator engaged in aggravated conduct constituting more than ordinary negligence in that he knew that his employees worked in areas with potential fall hazards without wearing and using the necessary fall protection. This violation was an unwarrantable failure to comply with a mandatory standard.

    This citation was terminated on January 17, 2002. The company has sufficiently trained and will stringently enforce the wearing of safety belts and lines.

    Related Fatal Alert Bulletin:
    Fatal Alert Bulletin Icon FAB02M06


    Persons Participating in the Investigation

    Worley Blue Quarry
    Eric Higginbotham .......... owner/operator

    Mine Safety and Health Administration
    Frederick B. Moore .......... mine safety and health inspector
    Mitchell Adams .......... supervisory mine safety and health inspector


    Persons Interviewed

    Worley Blue Quarry
    Eric Higginbotham .......... owner/operator
    Ben Fortin .......... ledgeman
    Buddy Cade .......... ledgeman
    Anothony Pass .......... ledgeman
    Walker Allen .......... ledgeman