Loader engulfed by highwall | 38 year old operator killed

January 3, 2019 JOHN NINNESS

A loader was engulfed by a highwall at a US based mine in December killing another mineworker taking the coal industry death toll in the USA to nine for 2018.

The US based federal mine safety regulator has released a  preliminary report on the incident that occurred on Tuesday, December 11, 2018. The regulator said a 38-year-old miner was fatally injured at a US open cut coal mine. The miner was operating a Loader to move shot rock near the toe of a 19 metre highwall. A large portion of the highwall collapsed onto the loader, crushing the operator cab and fatally injuring the miner.

MSHA advised mines to implement best practices for operators when working around high walls:
  • Safely examine highwalls from as many perspectives as possible (bottom, sides, and top/crest).  Look for signs of cracking and other geologic features that could lead to instability and secure or remove hazardous conditions.  Conduct additional examinations as ground conditions warrant, especially during periods of changing weather conditions.
  • Follow the approved ground control plan at all times to ensure the safe control of highwalls.
  • Use mining methods that ensure highwall stability and safe working conditions and do not excavate the base of the highwall.
  • Train all miners to recognize hazardous highwall conditions.
  • Operate mobile equipment perpendicular to the highwall or with the operator’s cab positioned away from the highwall.  Ensure that miners work, travel, and operate mining equipment at safe distances from the highwall.
  • Use proper blasting techniques for forming highwalls and thoroughly examine the highwall after each blasting operation.

MSHA said that this incident was the ninth fatality reported in the calendar year 2018 in the USA coal mining industry and it is the second classified as Fall of Face, Rib, Side or Highwall.  In 2017, fourteen fatalities were reported in the coal mining industry, with two in this classification.

The use of slope stability radar across a number of Australian mines has largely mitigated the risk of highwall collapses and engulfment however, site-based risk assessment for operators working adjacent highwalls or on benches will continue to be an on-going requirement under Australian mining safety legislation.

Image: MSHA (Supplied)

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