Mine safety agency cites coal company in death of Letcher miner

bestep@herald-leader.comJuly 16, 2012 

A personnel carrier involved in a fatal coal-mining accident in Letcher County had been altered so it no longer had an original safety feature, according to the U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration.

The agency cited the coal company in relation to the modification, and for using the carrier in a way that was dangerous.

A mine foreman, Jerry E. Britton, 47, died in the Nov. 7 accident, which happened at the Hubble Mining Company LLC Mine No. 9, an underground mine about three miles west of Eolia.

Britton suffered severe head injuries when the personnel carrier lurched forward and hit him, pinning him against the side of the mine, according to MSHA's report on the accident.

The carrier is designed to transport miners, but workers were using it to haul wooden blocks, called crib blocks, used underground to build barriers and stabilize equipment.

The worker driving the carrier told investigators that he had backed up to turn around before moving the vehicle's directional switch to forward. The four-wheeled carrier jumped forward more quickly than expected, he told investigators.

MSHA investigators found that the company that made the carrier had eliminated a safety control on it a few months before the fatal accident. Procedures for installing and testing the change were not followed, according to the report.

The vehicle's original control unit required an operator to put the accelerator in the neutral position before using a switch to change direction, but the new control did not have that "neutral start" feature, according to MSHA's report, released Friday.

Evidence suggested that without that feature, when the man driving the carrier moved the direction switch to forward with the accelerator down, the machine lurched forward and hit Britton, the report said.

The company that made the carrier knowingly installed the new control without the neutral-start safety feature, MSHA said.

MSHA cited the coal company for failing to make sure the carrier was being used according to its design. The agency also cited the company for using the carrier to transport the blocks, which impaired visibility for the operator.

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