A lack of workplace examinations, new worker training and seat belt requirements led to the death of a 16-year-old equipment operator at a Georgia mine, according to federal investigators.
The equipment operator, who was employed by a subcontractor performing work at the mine, was killed when the vehicle he was operating rolled off of an embankment and onto its side. He wasn’t wearing a seat belt at the time.
Subcontractor crew hired to prep future building site
On June 17, 2022, Brian Thigpen and two co-workers with Terra Excavating arrived at the Jackson Quarry in Jefferson, Georgia to construct a building pad as the future site of the mine’s crushing and screening plants.
The mine, which is owned by Vulcan Construction Materials, was under development when the incident occurred. Bradley T. Wiley was contracted to do set-up work and site clearing at the mine. Wiley subcontracted this work to Terra.
On the day of the incident, Thigpen and his co-workers met at the worksite at 6:40 a.m. to discuss workplans and safety before beginning their shift.
Co-workers notice vehicle on its side near edge of pad
After the meeting, the Terra crew began building up, grading and compacting the building pad for the crushing and screening plants. Thigpen was operating the compactor behind his co-workers who were using an excavator and bulldozer to clear the site.
At 1 p.m., Thigpen was told to move to the middle of the pad to concentrate on compacting in that area.
Six minutes later, a mechanic for Tractor and Equipment Co. arrived onsite to do a pre-delivery inspection of some mining equipment that had been delivered earlier. At the same time, one of Thigpen’s co-workers noticed the compactor was overturned and lying on its side near the edge of the pad.
The co-worker called Thigpen on the radio to see if he was okay, but there was no response. Upon hearing the call, the other co-worker came over to investigate along with the mechanic. With no response from Thigpen, and upon seeing the way the compactor’s canopy was crushed, the co-workers used the excavator to lift the compactor so they could remove Thigpen from the vehicle. Meanwhile, the mechanic called 9-1-1.
Emergency responders arrived onsite at 1:20 p.m., evaluated Thigpen’s condition and notified the coroner. The coroner pronounced Thigpen dead at 1:30 p.m.
No seat belt, training, workplace exams
Based on interviews, ground conditions and tire tracks, investigators with the Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) determined that Thigpen drove the compactor in reverse near the 4-foot drop-off at the edge of the pad, causing the left tire to drop off, leading to the rollover.
Diagnostic tests conducted on the compactor found no defects that would have contributed to the incident. Testing done on the compactor’s seat belt found that it functioned as designed but hadn’t been worn at the time of the incident.
Thigpen had only three weeks of experience working as a subcontractor at the mine. Terra didn’t provide him with required MSHA training, including new miner training and site-specific hazard awareness training. Investigators found Terra was aware of the training requirement but didn’t provide it to its workers.
New miner training would have provided Thigpen with instructions in mining methods and hazard recognition along with an introduction to the specific mine’s rules and procedures for reporting hazards. This lack of training contributed to the incident.
Wiley, the contractor who hired Terra, also didn’t provide information on site-specific mine hazards to the subcontractor and failed to notify the company of its obligation to comply with MSHA regulations.
MSHA also faulted Vulcan, the owner of the mine, for failing to ensure miners were properly trained and for failing to provide information to contractors and subcontractors regarding site-specific hazards, obligations to comply with MSHA regulations and company requirements regarding equipment safety.
Investigators found that Terra wasn’t conducting workplace examinations at this mine, which is why the 4-foot drop-off adjacent to the building pad wasn’t identified.
Mine removes contractor, subcontractor from all properties
Following the investigation, the mine operator:
- removed Wiley and Terra from the mine and all other Vulcan mining properties
- developed a written procedure to verify that contractors and subcontractors have received all MSHA-required training
- developed a written procedure to provide information to all contractors and subcontractors of their obligations to comply with MSHA regulations, including the requirement for workplace examinations
- developed a written procedure to conduct a pre-job meeting using a checklist that assures contractors and subcontractors are aware of their obligation to maintain control of mobile equipment
- implemented procedures to conduct a pre-job meeting using a checklist that assures contractors and subcontractors wear seat belts while operating mobile equipment, and
- implemented procedures to provide information to subcontractors regarding their obligation to comply with MSHA regulations and verify all MSHA-required training prior to working on the mine site.
Wiley developed a written procedure to provide information to its subcontractors regarding their obligation to comply with MSHA training regulations.