The operator of an underground coal mine near Logan caused a fatal mining incident in January by not having policies or procedures in place to assure safe underground haulage, according to federal mine regulators’ final report on the incident released Tuesday.
The federal Mine Safety and Health Administration found that the Aracoma Coal Company didn’t sufficiently assure safe underground haulage at the Davy Branch mine when mobile equipment traveled through a flypad (a transparent ventilation curtain) and shuttle cars shared a common intersection.
Shuttle car operator Justin L. Lafferty, 38, died Feb. 21 as the result of injuries he sustained at 7:44 a.m. on Jan. 22, when another shuttle car struck his own, according to the agency.
The boom portion of another shuttle car that traveled through flypads struck Lafferty’s right hip and leg at an intersection, the agency said. Lafferty was taken 37 minutes later to Logan Regional Medical Center, where he was found to have a fractured right fibula. He was then fitted with a walking boot, referred to outpatient orthopedics for further evaluation and treatment and then released.
But after Lafferty died Feb. 21 following a sudden onset of chest pain, and an autopsy report noted the immediate cause of death was a pulmonary thromboembolism as a direct consequence of Lafferty’s blunt impact injury from the previous month, per the agency.
Chad Spaulding, the driver of the shuttle car that hit Lafferty, told investigators that he did not see Lafferty’s shuttle car, directly or on a video monitor in the shuttle car compartment, because he was looking at a rib pillar, the agency noted in the report.
Investigators did not find any violations on the shuttle cars, flypads, or roadway that would have contributed to the incident, determining that flypads and intersections create line-of-sight restrictions that obscure whether another shuttle car is arriving at the intersection at the same time where flypads are used.
After the incident, the mine operator revised its approved ventilation plan addressing haulage equipment traveling through flypads, eliminating the practice of shuttle cars from different mechanized mining units sharing a common intersection where flypads are used, according to the agency. Mine management trained all miners on revised policies and procedures, which include bringing all rubber-tired mobile equipment in the area to a complete stop and sounding a warning device three times before proceeding through any flypads or ventilation curtains.
The Aracoma Coal Company has paid more than $20,000 in mine safety fines assessed by the Mine Safety and Health Administration for 58 citations since August 2020, not including $1,736 that the agency has proposed in fines not yet paid since April for 13 more citations, according to agency data.
The Mine Safety and Health Administration’s two enforcement actions following the Jan. 22 incident did not include a citation. Instead, the agency issued an order that day prohibiting activity in the area until deemed safe by the agency and a safeguard notice issued to the Aracoma Coal Company tightening safety standards for all rubber-tired mobile equipment in working sections of the mine.
The Aracoma Coal Company’s Davy Branch mine alone has been issued 36 violations by the West Virginia Office of Miners’ Health, Safety and Training since the start of 2021 totaling $7,400 in fines. Repeat violations have included unpermitted parking of mining equipment, improper ventilation of working sections of the mine and failure to effectively insulate and seal permanent splices in training cables.
The Aracoma Coal Company is controlled by Bristol, Tennessee-based Alpha Metallurgical Resources, Inc.
Alpha could not be reached for comment Tuesday.
There have been 21 fatal mining incidents in West Virginia since the beginning of 2017, according to the Mine Safety and Health Administration, including two in as many days last month. The second of those occurred at the Horse Creek Eagle mine in Raleigh County, which is operated by the Marfork Coal Company — another Alpha subsidiary.