The death of a coal miner in Letcher County last year happened because mine managers failed to make sure a piece of equipment was properly supported before having him work under it, the U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration has concluded.
The miner, 23-year-old Richard D. Coots, died after the equipment, called a bridge conveyor, fell on him at the Owlco Energy LLC Mine No. 1 at Partridge.
Employees at the mine had not been trained in the proper way to block up equipment so it wouldn't fall, MSHA said in a report released last week.
The agency cited Owlco over the training deficiency and the failure to properly support the conveyor.
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However, the attorney representing Coots' widow said the agency should have issued citations for additional factors that played a role in the fatal accident.
One mine foremen failed to note the potential hazard in a required safety inspection report, and another failed to note that a hazardous condition existed, said the attorney, Tony Oppegard.
MSHA did not cite Owlco for the failure of its supervisors to do proper on-shift and pre-shift examinations, Oppegard said.
Oppegard has asked MSHA chief Joseph Main to have the agency amend its report to say that the Owlco foremen failed in their safety-inspection duties, and to cite the company for the inadequate examinations.
Oppegard also asked that MSHA refer the case to federal prosecutors for a possible criminal investigation and to state mine regulators for possible disciplinary actions against the foremen.
A spokeswoman for MSHA, Amy Louviere, said the agency is reviewing Oppegard's request and preparing a response.
However, Louviere said the agency stands behind its accident investigation reports and the enforcement actions taken.
A man who answered the phone at Owlco's office on Thursday said he had no comment on the MSHA report and hung up.
The fatal accident happened early Oct. 7 at the small mine at Partridge. The bridge conveyor, which helps move coal out of the mine, had broken down on the day shift Oct. 6.
The shift foreman, Arnold Hoskins, helped prop up the conveyor with a rock, according to the MSHA report and Oppegard.
It would have been better to use sturdy pieces of wood, called crib blocks, to shore up the equipment so employees could work under it, said Oppegard, a former employee of both the state and federal mine-safety agencies.
Coots' family has been told there were crib blocks nearby in the mine, Oppegard said.
Coots' job was to repair the bridge conveyor on the second shift.
The second-shift foreman, Mark Sizemore, knew Coots would be working on the equipment and should have made sure it was properly blocked up, but he didn't, Oppegard told Main.
The equipment fell on Coots, trapping him. He yelled to two other employees, including his brother, "Get it off of me!" according to the federal report.
However, the other miners had trouble getting the heavy piece of equipment off Coots. He was unresponsive by the time they freed him, and he was pronounced dead after unsuccessful CPR attempts.
Coots had five years' experience as a miner but had been at the Owlco mine about six weeks.
He is survived by his wife, Kayla Coots, and two daughters, one age 4 and the other 3 months old.
Owlco didn't follow basic safety procedures before the accident, Oppegard told Main.
"Clearly this was an accident that never should have happened," Oppegard said.