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Surface Nonmetal Mine

Fatal Powered Haulage Accident
September 23, 2002

RA JA Stone Quarry
RA JA Stone, Inc.
Tazewell, Clairborne County, Tennessee
Mine I.D. No. 40-03095

Accident Investigators

Billy K. Terry
Supervisory Mine Safety and Health Inspector

Willie A. Sowards
Mine Safety and Health Inspector

Dale P. Ingold
General Engineer

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


Denver A. Dean, plant operator, age 43, was fatally injured on September 23, 2002, when he became entangled in the #2 fines belt conveyor tail pulley. Dean was clearing plugged valleys between the wings on the self-cleaning tail pulley when the accident occurred.

The accident occurred because the conveyor had not been blocked against motion prior to employees cleaning spilled material from around the tail pulley.

Dean had a total of 17 months mining experience, all at this operation as a plant operator. He had received training in accordance with 30 CFR Part 46.


RA JA Stone Quarry, a crushed limestone operation, owned by RA JA Stone, Inc., was located at Cedar Fork Road, Tazewell, Clairborne County, Tennessee. The principal operating official was James B. Payne, operations manager. The mine normally operated one eight-hour shift per day, five days a week. Total employment was 11 persons.

The mine was a single bench quarry accessed by decline roadways. After the removal of overburden, limestone was drilled, blasted and transported by haul trucks to the primary crushing plant where it was crushed, screened, and stockpiled. The finished product was sold for use as construction aggregate.

The last regular inspection at this operation was completed June 3, 2002.


On the day of the accident, Denver A. Dean (victim) reported to work at 7:00 a.m., his normal starting time. Dean was instructed by James B. Payne, operations manager, to operate the plant as the regular plant operator was absent. Dean started the plant and within minutes, the #7 belt conveyor stopped. Dean and Richard Berkley, loader operator, replaced the drive belts on the #7 conveyor drive motor. The plant was restarted and operated for a short time when the drive belts on the #1 screen conveyor failed and had to be replaced. After Dean and Berkley replaced these belts, the plant was restarted and ran normally until approximately 10:30 a.m. At that time, the drive belts on the #2 fines belt conveyor failed. Dean and Berkley replaced these belts and attempted to restart the conveyor belt, without success.

They determined that the material around the tail pulley had to be removed before the conveyor belt could be started. Both men shoveled material from under the conveyor belt and used a Caterpillar 988B front-end loader to remove the shoveled material from the area.

At approximately 11:30, a.m. Payne arrived at the area and informed them he would try to repair another front-end loader to expedite the removal of the material. At approximately 2:20 p.m., Dean was using his hands to clear the material from under the conveyor belt and around the tail pulley section while Berkley was using a hoe.

The belt suddenly lost tension and rolled backwards, approximately 12 to 15 inches, catching Dean's right hand and pulling his arm into the tail pulley assembly. He became entangled between the belt and tail roller and held against the metal structure frame of the conveyor assembly.

Berkley heard Dean's hard hat strike the conveyor unit and saw Dean entangled in the tail pulley assembly. Berkley ran to the primary crusher control station and notified the scale house attendant of the situation by radio. The scale house attendant immediately called 911 for emergency assistance. Several co-workers went to Dean's aid and attempted to free his arm unsuccessfully. The belt was then cut. Dean was removed from the tail pulley and CPR was administered. Emergency personnel arrived at the scene a short time later and Dean was transported to the county hospital where he was pronounced dead. Death was attributed to massive trauma.


On the day of the accident, MSHA was notified at about 3:55 p.m., by a telephone call from James B. Payne, operations manager, to Charles E. McDaniel, mine safety and health inspector. An investigation was started that day. An order was issued under the provisions of Section 103(k) of the Act to ensure the safety of the miners. 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 accident occurred at the tail pulley of the #2 fines belt conveyor at the crushing and screening plant. The fin-type, self-cleaning tail pulley measured 15 inches in diameter and was 30 inches wide.

  • The conveyor belt was 30 inches wide and constructed of four-ply laminated rubber. The head pulley was 24 inches in diameter and constructed of smooth steel. The belt was driven by the head pulley utilizing a 10-horsepower, 460-volt, three-phase, 1745 rpm motor. Power was transferred from the motor through dual V-belts connected to a 24.64/1 Dodge Torque Arm speed reducer that was directly coupled to the head pulley. A mechanical take-up was used to tension the belt. The conveyor was 22 feet, 5 inches in length from the center of the head pulley to the center of the tail pulley and was installed on a 2.8 percent grade to the head pulley. The conveyor frame was constructed of steel channel side rails, 41 inches from the ground at the tail.

  • Material was received at the dump hopper and fed into the primary crusher. Oversized material was split off for rip rap or run through a pug mill. The undersized split was sent to either the secondary crusher or recirculated through the scalping screen. From the secondary crusher, the material was conveyed to the triple deck screen where it was sized. Short transfer conveyors moved the material from the decks and bottom of the screen to the respective stacking conveyors.

  • The system was controlled at a central operator's station; however, belt conveyors could be started at the electrical control room located adjacent to the accident site. The belts were not interlocked, therefore, the preceding operation continued when a conveyor was stopped. There was a master stop switch that would shut all operations down when depressed. The investigation found that the center phase buss fuse was blown prohibiting the #2 fines conveyor from restarting.

  • Prior to the accident, material was packed around the inside of the #2 conveyor tail pulley and created a noticeable bulge. Material was also packed against the outside of the belt, piled up from ground level. Shovel marks on the tail pulley indicated that the tail pulley valleys were cleaned using a shovel where it could be maneuvered into the valleys. At the valley closest to the belt, at approximately the one o'clock position, Dean used his hand to clear the valley while Berkley used a hoe to continue cleaning under the belt.

  • After the material was cleaned from the #2 fines conveyor, the tail pulley became free. The tension in the return side of the belt caused the tail pulley to roll backwards about 12 to 15 inches when the material between the tail pulley and the conveyor belt was removed.

  • During the investigation, the conveyor belt was spliced back together along the cut point to restore the belt length as close as possible to the length it would have been at the time of the accident. All material had been removed from the belt prior to splicing it. With the conveyor belt intact, empty, and free of material on the inside, it could be moved manually by pulling on the drive V-belts. The tail pulley was moved to the approximate position prior to the accident. When tested with the first cleaned valley at the one-o'clock position, the belt remained stationary. The conveyor belt was then loaded by hand to approximately the same degree it was reported to be at the time of the accident. When an attempt to advance the conveyor manually was made, the belt would not move. Power was restored and the belt was jogged to the approximate position the tail pulley was prior to the accident. As the belt was stopped, the tail pulley rolled back approximately 12 inches.

  • The regular plant operator was absent on the day of the accident. The victim had performed this job previously and reportedly was well qualified.

  • It had rained prior to the accident and the material was wet and sticking to the conveyor belts.


    The root cause of the accident was failure to block the conveyor against motion. Contributing causes to the accident were the failure to have a company policy that required spilled material be cleaned around conveyor tail pulleys before the build-up created a hazard and failure of workplace examinations to identify existing hazards.


    Order No. 6119245 was issued on September 23, 2002, under the provisions of Section 103(k) of the Mine Act:
    A fatal accident occurred at this operation on September 23, 2002, when a miner was caught in the tail pulley of the fines conveyor belt. This order is issued to assure the safety of all persons at this operation. It prohibits all activity at the fines conveyor belt tail pulley until MSHA has determined that it is safe to resume normal mining operations in the area. The mine operator shall obtain prior approval from an authorized representative for all actions to recover and/or restore operations to the affected area.
    This order was terminated on September 30, 2002. The investigation had been completed and normal mining operations can resume.

    Citation No. 7784926 was issued on September 24, 2002, under the provisions of Section 104(a) of the Mine Act for violation of Standard 56.14105:
    A fatal accident occurred at this operation on September 23, 2002, when a plant operator was caught in the tail pulley of the fines conveyor belt. The materials fines conveyor pulley was not blocked against motion while two employees were working on and around the tail pulley assembly. While removing material from around the tail pulley, an employee became entangled when material was removed and the belt rolled backwards.
    This citation was terminated on November 8, 2002. All employees have been trained in the proper procedures (blocking) to be used when removing material from around tail pulley assemblies.

    Related Fatal Alert Bulletin:
    Fatal Alert Bulletin Icon FAB02M29


    Persons Participating in the Investigation

    RA JA Stone, Inc.
    Dennis D. Bunch ......... personnel & safety director (Giles Industry)
    James B. Payne ......... operations manager
    Richard E. Berkley ......... front-end loader operator
    Clifford M. Holcomb ......... front-end loader operator
    Clarence E Painter ......... truck driver
    Gary Smith ......... mechanic
    Steve Curtis ......... mechanic & mobile equipment operator
    Kevin Louthan ......... plant/crusher operator
    Clairborne County Police Department
    Dewayne Lovin ......... police officer
    Clairborne County Medical Examiner Department
    Dr. Carroll E. Rose ......... medical examiner
    Mine Safety and Health Administration
    Billy K. Terry ......... supervisory mine safety and health inspector
    Willie A. Sowards ......... mine safety and health inspector
    Dale P. Ingold ......... general engineer


    Persons Interviewed

    RA JA Stone, Inc.
    James B. Payne ......... operations manager
    Richard E. Berkley ......... front-end loader operator
    Clifford M. Holcomb ......... front-end loader operator
    Clarence E Painter ......... truck driver
    Gary Smith ......... mechanic
    Steve Curtis ......... mechanic & mobile equipment operator
    Kevin Louthan ......... plant/crusher operator