MSHA’s next step toward openness, while another worker dies at Arizona ASARCO copper mine

MSHA took another step toward openness by posting on its website the “preliminary report of accident” form for the most recent fatal injury incidents at US mining operations. The MSHA Form 7000-13 is the first record made by agency personnel when they are notified of a worker death, serious injury or other reportable event such as roof falls and inundations. I’ve always appreciated that MSHA attempts to post within 2-3 weeks some information on its website about recent fatalities–in the form of “Fatalgrams”—-but the 7000-13 reports are a terrific addition. I think some credit may be due to our friend at Coal Tattoo. I think his pitching (or griping or demanding) about releasing the 7000-13 records finally fell on the right ears.

For years, MSHA has used its “Fatalgrams” as an initial public general notification of a fatal injury of a mine worker. Despite the awkward name, I think these one-page sheets are a genuine attempt by the agency to provide timely information about worker fatalities (examples, here, here, here) and consistent with the agency’s mission.

Those of us who are familiar with MSHA records, however, knew that the 7000-13 forms provided additional factual information not contained on the fatalgram. This includes the mine’s location, total # of employees, and # of employees on-site at the time of the incident, and a brief description of what was initially known about the event. (Of course, much more information is assembled through MSHA’s investigation.)

I only noticed this new addition to MSHA’s website after learning this morning of another fatality at the ASARCO (Grupo Mexico) copper mine in Gila, Arizona. The fatality occurred just two days ago and MSHA’s 7000-13 form says:

“A 240-ton haul truck ran over a 1/2 ton maintenance truck, fatally injuring one person and seriously injuring another. The maintenance truck was located near the right front corner of the haul truck.”

The worker is identified in an article in today’s Arizona Republic as Thomas E. Benavidez, 53, a diesel mechanic. The article says he suffered fatal injuries when the pickup truck he was in was crushed by a 2-3 story tall haulage truck.

This is the third fatality at the ASARCO (Grupo Mexico) Ray copper mine since August 2008. That’s when Mr. Peter Eudave, 41, was electrocuted while changing the ballast in a floodlight. ASARCO was cited for violating lock-out/tag-out procedures, received a $73,800 penalty and contested it. The case is pending. In September 2009, Mr. Robert C. Stewart, 28, was killed when the truck he was driving overturned (previous post here.) ASARCO was cited and paid a $50,000 penalty. For those not familiar with Grupo Mexico, they are not a model employer. Earlier this year, the United Steelworkers filed suit in support of families who lost loved ones in a methane explosion at a coal mine in Coahuila, Mexico. That disasters, which happened just weeks after the January 2006 Sago mine disaster, took the lives of 65 men; the Mexican miners’ bodies remain entombed in the mine.