At around 1:30 p.m. on March 7, Adam DeBoard was shoveling mud at a Greenbrier County coal mine owned by South Fork Coal Company.
A hole had been mined, and miners started removing the underground parts of the highwall mining machine, which is used to mine holes hundreds of feet underground. DeBoard, a front-end loader who’d worked in mining for 10 years, parked his machine and came to help out. While he was standing near the side of the machine, DeBoard’s head got stuck behind a beam and metal post.
A foreman/operator watched DeBoard fall and pressed an emergency stop button, and EMTs subsequently showed up to help DeBoard.
Doctors pronounced DeBoard dead at about 2:45 p.m. He was 38 years old.
Details of DeBoard’s death were detailed in a federal investigation report, released Thursday by the U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration. According to federal inspectors, the death happened because the mine operator didn’t identify the place where DeBoard was standing as a “pinch area” that should be avoided, and didn’t train miners to avoid areas like those.
MSHA cited South Fork Coal Company for failing to keep miners away from the area and for failing to train its miners.
According to the report, DeBoard was repeatedly standing in the small area that “was not intended to be a work area because of the proximity of the moving push beams.” Investigators also found that miners repeatedly stood there, even when they should have waited on a platform. The area was about 18 by 12 inches of metal, the report says.
“The foremen and other miners knew the victim was standing in this location and told investigators they believed the area was a safe location for him to wait for the push beam to be moved to the holder,” the report says.
Had the mine operator provided training or identified that work area as unsafe, the death could have been prevented, the report says.
The operator implemented “corrective actions,” including an 8-hour training class for all miners and identifying red zone areas. The area where DeBoard died is now brightly painted and has warning signs, cameras and physical barriers, the report says.