CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Alpha Natural Resources created an "imminent danger" to miners when it used mobile equipment that had been modified in a way that limited the visibility of underground miners, state inspectors have alleged.
The state Office of Miners' Health, Safety and Training issued an imminent danger order to Alpha subsidiary White Buck Coal Co. as part of its investigation of a November 2012 death of a miner in Greenbrier County.
Steve O'Dell, a 27-year-old electrician from Mount Nebo, was killed Nov. 30, 2012, when he was pinned between a continuous mining machine and a "scoop" vehicle used to carry maintenance supplies at White Buck's Pocahontas Mine near Rupert.
Investigators determined that O'Dell was positioned beside the cutting head of the continuous mining machine, performing maintenance on the machine, when the maintenance scoop pinned him against the mining machine.
In a report released last week, the U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration said that one "root cause" of O'Dell's death was a modification of the maintenance scoop. The installation of storage boxes and a welder on the scoop's frame "limited the sight distance of the scoop operator," MSHA said.
MSHA investigators determined that the scoop that was involved in the accident had been "altered significantly" when it was previously used at Massey Energy's Jerry Fork Eagle Mine. In June 2011, Alpha bought Massey Energy.
Federal officials did not cite Alpha or White Buck for the scoop modification. Instead, MSHA issued what it calls a "safeguard order." Such an order carries no monetary penalty, but requires Alpha to ensure that other equipment at the mine is not modified in a way that similarly inhibits operator visibility.
Amy Louviere, a spokeswoman for MSHA, said there is no federal regulation that specifically prohibits the types of modifications made to the scoop that was involved in O'Dell's death.
"Now that this safeguard is issued, if this condition is found again by an MSHA inspector, a citation will be issued and a fine assessed," Louviere said.
State mine safety inspectors, though, did cite Alpha for the scoop modifications. A state rule that dates back to 1985 prohibits any equipment modifications that limit visibility "to a degree which poses a hazard to persons in the vicinity of such equipment."
"This is a violation of a health or safety rule, is of a serious nature, and involves a fatality," the state's report on O'Dell's death concluded.