Safety equipment installed after the fact, too little, too late for Army veteran coal miner

Here we go again.  Worker killed on-the-job.  The employer decides—after the fact—-it would be smart to install a piece of safety equipment that likely would have prevented the death.  That’s what happened after coal miner John Houston “Hollywood” Myles, 44, was killed on-the-job.

Myles worked at the Metinvest’s Affinity Mine in Raleigh County, WV.  The veteran of Operation Desert Storm (1991) had worked as a coal miner for a total of four years, one of which at the Affinity mine.  On February 19, 2013, Myles was shoveling loose coal and material from the mine floor.  In an adjacent entry (tunnel), another coal miner was operating a mobile piece of equipment to scoop up coal and other loose material.  MSHA’s investigation report explains what happened next:

“…the scoop operator entered the crosscut in a reverse direction and struck the victim, pinning him beneath the batteries of the machine.”

Myles died from his injuries.

The height of the entry, an incline in the roadway, and the configuration of the scoop, obstructed the scoop operator’s visibility.  It was further compounded by supplies stack on the scoop, including 18 bags of rock dust and cases of bottled water, which also blocked the operator’s view.  MSHA reported his visibility operating the scoop in the reverse direction was limited to nine inches.  (In February, I wrote  about another obstructed view on a scoop which contributed to the death of coal miner Greg Byers, 43.  He was also a U.S. veteran.)

MSHA’s investigation report notes that three months after the fatal incident, the mine operator installed a proximity detection system on a shuttle car and a scoop.  This safety equipment is capable of detecting when workers are present and automatically stop movement of the vehicle.  That safety improvement was three months too late to save the life of John Houston “Hollywood” Myles, 44.

Since 2010, about a dozen underground coal miners have died after being struck by mobile equipment.  Proximity detection systems which can be retrofitted to mining and construction equipment have been on the market for years. MSHA, however, does not require mine operators to have these devices on any type of mobile equipment.  No citations were issued to the Affinity mine related to Myles’ death.

At the beginning of the Obama Administration, the Labor Department indicated that a regulation requiring proximity detection devices was a priority.  In April 2010, MSHA requested information from miners, mine operators and equipment manufacturers about proximity detection systems.  MSHA proceeded to draft a proposed regulation on these systems and submitted it in September 2011 for review to the White House’s Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA).   Today, nearly two years later, OIRA has yet to complete that review.  While OIRA dilly-dallies, workers are losing their lives.

Mine operators could certainly install proximity detection devices without being compelled by an MSHA regulation.  But far too many companies don’t go out of their way to exceed the bare minimum regulatory requirements.  Look at the Affinity mine.  It took a worker fatality to get them to act.