A mine charger tractor operator with 16 years of experience was involved in a fatal crash because the mine operator failed to ensure equipment operators maintained control of vehicles and used seat belts.
An investigation by the U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) found that the charger tractor operator’s crash into a pillar was caused by the mine operator’s failure to enforce safety policies related to its mobile equipment.
Tractor used to transport explosives for blasting
On Dec. 6, 2022, Hagen Barton began his shift at Doe Run Company’s Viburnum 35 Casteel Mine in Iron County, Missouri.
The underground mine drills and blasts lead-zinc ore and transports it to the surface by belt conveyor. Explosives are stored underground and they are transported to blasting sites via charger tractor. Barton’s job duties included operating the charger tractor and setting explosives.
At the start of Barton’s shift, around 6:30 a.m., he drove the charger tractor to the mine’s active working face and began loading ammonium nitrate fuel oil into drill holes for blasting. Later, Barton drove to the surface in a side-by-side utility vehicle to go on his lunch break.
After lunch, Barton returned underground as a passenger on the side-by-side utility vehicle. A co-worker dropped him off where he had parked the charger tractor. The co-worker saw Barton drive the charger tractor back toward the active working face of the mine to finish loading the drill holes with explosives.
Co-worker finds operator under tractor
At about 1:30 p.m., a co-worker was driving in the area where Barton was last seen. He saw the charger tractor stopped against a pillar. When the co-worker investigated, he found Barton under the charger tractor with the vehicle running and in gear.
The co-worker placed the charger tractor in neutral, shut the engine off and checked on Barton. When he couldn’t find a pulse, the co-worker ran to a phone and called for help.
At 3 p.m., the mine rescue team arrived on the scene and extracted Barton from beneath the charger tractor. They transported him to the surface where he was pronounced dead by the county coroner.
Seat belt was not in use at time of incident
MSHA investigators found that the charger tractor was a 2013 Getman Model No. A64 ExC 2-500SER with certified rollover protective structure (ROPS) and a falling object protective structure (FOPS). The vehicle had no defects that would have contributed to the crash.
Investigators found that the seat belt also had no defects. However, there was evidence that Barton wasn’t wearing the seat belt at the time of the crash. The mine operator had a policy requiring use of seat belts while operating mobile equipment.
Barton had conducted adequate inspections of the charger tractor and the mine operator had conducted sufficient inspections of ground conditions within the mine. Barton was also up to date with his training. Investigators found that training and inspections had no impact on the crash.
Mine operator re-trained workers on safe use of equipment
MSHA investigators found that the root causes of the fatal incident were that the mine operator:
- failed to ensure the charger tractor operator maintained control of the vehicle, and
- didn’t enforce its policy requiring miners to wear seat belts while operating mobile equipment.
To prevent this kind of incident from occurring again, the mine operator:
- set up a training area on the surface of the mine to train new employees on mobile equipment before they would enter the underground part of the mine
- retrained all experienced charger tractor operators on mobile equipment and safe operating habits
- held safety meetings with all employees to retrain them on seat belt use, equipment inspections and workplace examinations, and
- inspected the seat belts on all mobile equipment for excessive wear and other damage.