Eastern Kentucky coal mine death blamed on safety lapses

An accident that killed a coal miner in Pike County happened because a conveyor belt did not have adequate safety guards, according to a federal investigation.

Ray Hatfield Jr. was killed Jan. 26 when his clothing got tangled in bolts on a roller shaft and he was pulled into the moving equipment, the U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration said in its report.

The mine operator, R&C Coal LLC, also did not have effective programs and policies in place to make sure employees shut off the conveyor belt before working close to it, the MSHA report said.

Hatfield, 43, was from Hi Hat in Floyd County. He had 23 years’ experience as a miner, but had only been at the R&C Mine No. 2 near Pikeville for about six months, according to MSHA records.

The underground mine is a small operation. It listed eight employees in the second quarter of 2017 and coal production in 2016 of 14,636 tons, according to MSHA.

Hatfield was shoveling up loose coal from under the beltline when he was killed.

When he didn’t come out at the end of this shift, mine owner Mark Daugherty tried to call him on the mine phone, then went to look for him. Daugherty found Hatfield dead.

Mine operators are required to clean up loose coal under beltlines because it can pile up and become a fire hazard.

However, miners aren’t supposed to clean up the coal while the conveyor is in motion unless it can be done without endangering the miners, the MSHA report said.

That can be done with adequate guarding around the beltline and the use of a shovel with a handle long enough so that miners don’t have to get too close to the moving equipment, the report said.

There was a chain-link fence around the belt drive where Hatfield was killed, but there was an opening that allowed miners to stand between the belt roller and the fence while working, the report said.

The mine operator reconfigured the guards after the fatal accident so that the beltline could be shoveled without having to remove the guards, MSHA said.

Regulators cited R&C for several violations, including the inadequate guards around the beltline.

The agency also cited the company for accumulations of loose coal, coal fines and dust. A build-up of combustible material and mechanical problems on the beltline created potential ignition sources, the report said.

The mine operator failed to conduct proper safety checks, MSHA alleged.

Daugherty said in a log book that he had inspected all the conveyor belts during the shift, but he had not examined a 960-foot section of one, the MSHA report said.

The hazards that inspectors saw at the mine were “obvious and extensive” and should have been identified, logged in and fixed, MSHA said.

“The practice of not recognizing and correcting hazardous conditions exposes miners to injury by allowing them to work in areas where hazardous conditions exist,” the report said.

Hatfield was the first miner killed in Kentucky this year.

A second miner, 33-year-old Joseph Partin, was killed March 30 in Whitley County when a large rock fell from a highwall at a surface auger mine and hit him.

The two fatalities equal the total from all of 2016.