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Fatal mine elevator wasn't inspected, report says

CHARLESTON, W.Va. --  An underground mine elevator where a worker was killed in February had a key safety device deactivated and had not been inspected by the mine operator for at least a year, state investigators say in a new report.

The state Office of Miners' Health, Safety and Training cited Pocahontas Coal Co., owned by Ukraine-based Metinvest B.V., in the Feb. 7 death at the company's Affinity Mine near Sophia, Raleigh County.

Edward L. Finney, 43, of Bluefield, Va., was killed while he was unloading trash from a mine scoop vehicle's bucket, which was positioned on the platform of the elevator, known as a hoist. The scoop fell on Finney when another worker raised the platform and the platform started moving up the elevator shaft.

State investigators said the hoist was equipped with a switch that should have kept the platform from moving while Finney was on it with its gates open.

But, investigators said, the safety switch "had been intentionally defeated." The electrical-magnetic switch had been removed from the gate and taped to the gate's frame assembly, giving the control system a false indication that the gate was closed when it was actually open, state investigators said in their report. After the accident, another worker saw the switch taped to the frame assembly and removed the tape, allowing the switch to fall to the floor, the state report said.

"The accident is a direct result of the intentional defeating of the west gate safety switch," state investigators said. "This condition violates a health or safety rule and is of a serious nature and involves a fatality."

State investigators also found that Affinity mine management had not performed safety or electrical examinations of the hoist equipment for at least a year. Safety examinations are required every 24 hours and electrical exams at least once per week.

Jennifer Guthrie, a spokeswoman for Pocahontas Coal and Metinvest, said the company "takes seriously the findings" of the state report and that the Affinity Mine has "modified its comprehensive safety programs" to incorporate state recommendations.

The state report, made public last week, provides new details about one of two miner deaths that occurred at the Affinity operation in less than two weeks earlier this year.

On Feb. 19, shuttle car operator John Myles was hit by a scoop as he worked shoveling coal debris away from Affinity's mine walls. Myles, 44, of Hilltop, was knocked out and taken to Raleigh County General Hospital, where he later died. A report on that incident has not yet been made public.

The Affinity deaths were among five West Virginia coal-mining fatalities that occurred in a five-week period in February and March.

Another of those deaths occurred on Feb. 6 at Patriot Coal subsidiary Midland Trail Energy's Blue Creek Preparation Plant.

Brandon E. Townsend, 34, of Delbarton was killed and a second miner was injured when a hydraulic jack -- part of a filter press used to dewater coal refuse generated in the coal-cleaning process -- blew up at the facility, located in the Campbells Creek area and also known as the Five Mile Prep Plant.

In another report issued last week, state investigators found that the equipment involved in Townsend's death was not properly maintained. The main pressure relief valve was set to relieve the system at a hydraulic pressure of 4,800 pounds per square inch, state investigators found. But the maximum operating pressure for the filter press is 2,610 pounds per square inch, the state report said. Hydraulic hoses connecting the pump and cylinder are rated at a maximum pressure of 4,000 psi, the state report said.

The state report said that all workers at the site were not given access to an operator's manual for the filter press, and that a manual was not "made readily available."

Patriot Coal would not comment on the state report. Reach Ken Ward Jr. at kward@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1702.


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