A miner with 53 years of experience died when he was ejected from the cab of a bulldozer he was operating as it rolled over an embankment. He wasn’t wearing a seat belt, according to investigators.
The 73-year-old miner was killed because his employer didn’t ensure its employees wore seat belts, the Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) said in a report.
Operator driving on abandoned haul road
Billy Mapes was a miner employed by LMS Excavating, a contractor that was hired to conduct surface reclamation work at the Grapevine South Surface Mine in Mingo County, West Virginia.
Mapes and three other LMS employees arrived at the mine and laid straw on recently seeded areas from 7:25 a.m. until 12:30 p.m.
After lunch, Mapes drove his bulldozer to the gate of Haul Road 3, a dirt road that hadn’t been used since 2018. Mapes and another employee planned to meet at the end of the road, where the bulldozer was going to be parked for the night, after they finished up some other tasks.
Bulldozer rolls over damaged section of roadway
A half mile into his route, Mapes encountered a barricade made of large rocks. This barricade was installed by the mine operator to prevent unauthorized access onto this portion of the road because of a prior embankment collapse.
At 12:56 p.m., Mapes used his bulldozer to reposition the rocks, allowing him to move the vehicle past the barricade. After he passed through the barricade, Mapes pushed the rocks back into position. He then drove in reverse with the blade down to repair some damage to the roadway.
As the bulldozer backed up, it went over the edge of the road where the previous embankment collapse had occurred. The bulldozer rolled down the hill, causing Mapes to be ejected since he wasn’t wearing his seat belt. He was later found 149 feet uphill from where the bulldozer came to rest.
Body found hours later by security guard
About two hours later, a security guard observed the bulldozer wreckage and alerted other security personnel of the situation. The guard looked for the bulldozer’s operator and eventually found Mapes. Mapes didn’t have a pulse when the guard found him. Meanwhile, the other LMS employees called 9-1-1 at 3:57 p.m.
Mapes was pronounced dead by emergency responders at 4:46 p.m.
Investigators confirm seat belt was functional but not used
They also found that LMS and the mine operator knew about the damaged embankment but failed to repair or replace the berm along that section of the roadway.
A lack of adequate workplace examinations, which would have caught the hazard presented by the damaged roadway, was a contributing factor.
Contractor places new emphasis on seat belts, safety meetings
Investigators found that the root causes of Mapes’ death were the:
- mine operator’s failure to conduct adequate workplace examinations, and
- contractor’s failure to ensure its employees wore seat belts when operating equipment.
The mine operator has since developed a new written procedure requiring all workers who perform examinations to communicate their findings to mine management the day the examinations are completed and prior to conducting work. This applies to company employees and contractors.
LMS developed a new written procedure that includes an increased emphasis on compliance with company policy requiring seat belts. This procedure includes increased frequency of safety meetings to ensure employee compliance.