A rock fall that killed an employee at a Whitley County surface coal mine in March happened after the operator failed to identify and correct hazardous conditions, according to a federal report.
The mine operator did not prevent employees from working in a potentially dangerous spot between a machine and the rock wall above the area being mined, according to the U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration accident report.
Joseph W. Partin, 33, was working on a machine when a two-ton rock fell from the highwall above and crushed him.
MSHA cited Green Hill Mining and Alden Resources for alleged violations. Alden Resources had a surface mine, called the Colonel Hollow Mine, at the site in Rockholds while Green Hill was doing auger mining at the spot.
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Auger mining involves using a machine to drill into a hill and pull out coal.
Partin, who had eight years of experience, worked for Green Hill as a foreman and auger operator, according to the MSHA report.
Partin and a helper, Travis Kidwell, were working the second shift at the mine when the accident happened.
Partin was standing between the auger and the rock wall while he changed worn cutter head bits on the machine. He changed three bits and told Kidwell it was quitting time, according to the MSHA report.
Just after 2 a.m., Kidwell saw a small rock fall from the highwall and yelled, “Watch out!” But a rock 5 feet long and 30 inches thick broke loose just above the coal seam and hit Partin from behind, according to the report.
Kidwell determined he could not move the rock. Partin was unresponsive, the report said.
Kidwell drove to the pit entrance, where he could make a telephone call, and dialed 9-1-1, but firefighters and ambulance workers did not assist Partin because of his position under the rock, the MSHA report said.
Whitley County Coroner Andy Croley pronounced him dead there just after 3 a.m.
MSHA alleged in citations that the mining companies committed several safety violations in connection with the accident, some of them qualifying as aggravated conduct.
One citation said Green Hill Mining did not prevent miners from standing between the auger machine and highwall. The equipment may hinder escape.
Green Hill Mining also failed to identify and correct highwall hazards, MSHA alleged.
Rocks or debris had fallen from the highwall on three occasions in the week before the fatal accident, the MSHA report said.
If there were stress cracks or stability problems in the wall above the holes to be drilled, Green Hill was supposed to stop mining, barricade the area and revise its plan to control those hazards, the federal report said.
The investigation showed those hazards existed in the highwall, but Green Hill did not barricade the area or revise its plan, and “the auger continued to operate.”
The report said Alden Resources was supposed to look for hazards and strip away loose material from the top of all pits or highwalls.
However, there were loose rocks, rock ledges and cracks at the highwall where the accident happened, which ranged from 50 to 65 feet high, MSHA said.
The agency also cited Alden Resources for allegedly failing to adequately identify and record hazardous conditions such as loose rock.
Alden Resources stopped mining at the site in June and the mine was placed in abandoned status, according to the MSHA report.
There have been two coal-mining deaths in Kentucky in 2017 and 13 nationwide, nearly double the seven that occurred in 2016.