Kentucky

Lack of policies to protect miners played role in Kentucky coal death, agency says

Coal produced at an underground mine in Kentucky poured from the end of a conveyor onto a pile being used to load trucks in December 2018.
Coal produced at an underground mine in Kentucky poured from the end of a conveyor onto a pile being used to load trucks in December 2018. bestep@herald-leader.com

The death of a surveyor in a Bell County coal mine in January happened because the mine operator did not have effective methods in place to protect employees who were on foot from being hit by moving equipment, federal regulators said.

Jeffrey N. Slone, 56, of Clinton, Tenn., died when he was hit by a shuttle car at the small underground Toms Fork Mine, operated by Tennco Inc.

Shuttle cars are used to move coal from where it’s dug out of the working face to a conveyor system to take it outside.

Slone, a surveyor with 30 years’ mining experience, was taking measurements to help maintain a uniform mining height when the accident happened, according to the investigation report from the U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration.

Another employee who had taken coal to the conveyor feeder saw Slone lying on the floor after stopping to fix an electrical cable.

That employee, Richard Lane, used the mine telephone to notify the owner of the accident, then ran to get first-aid supplies and a blanket, according to the report.

However, when section foreman H. Randall Hensley arrived, he realized there was nothing that could be done to save Slone, and had miners walk out of the mine.

MSHA said one cause of the accident was that the vision of the shuttle-car operator who hit Slone was reduced because of the size and height of the machine and the low mining height.

Another cause was that one of the headlights on the shuttle car wasn’t working, according to MSHA’s report.

That meant less visibility for the shuttle operator, and also made it harder for employees walking in the mine to see the machine, the report said.

The mine made changes after Slone’s death, including installing cameras on shuttle cars to increase visibility for operators and requiring people inside the mine to wear a light on the back of their hard hats, MSHA said.

Kentucky has had two coal-mining fatalities this year.

Slone, who was married and had two children, also was a Baptist minister, WVLT television in Knoxville reported at the time of his death.

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