Federal investigators found that a miner’s fatal fall through an opening in an elevated beltline catwalk was due to the employer’s failure to post warning signs and ensure workers wore fall protection.
The U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) found that the incident would have been prevented if the employer made sure workers wore fall PPE when working on catwalks and had barricaded or posted warning signs near the opening.
Belt conveyor 35 feet above ground stopped working
Bobby Allen was a maintenance mechanic with 10 years of experience working at the Randolph Deep Mine. The mine is an underground crushed and broken limestone facility located in Clay County, Kansas, that uses a belt conveyor to transport limestone from underground to a plant on the surface for crushing and sizing.
On Jan. 30, 2023, Allen started his shift at 5:37 a.m. His job was to monitor plant operations and take care of any issues that may arise.
At 4:20 p.m., the No. 12 belt conveyor in the East End Building stopped working. The conveyor was accessible via a catwalk that was 40 feet long and elevated 35 feet above the ground.
Allen investigated and found that the conveyor’s discharge chute was full of rock and needed to be cleaned out. He called for several other miners to help him clear the chute.
Sections of catwalk removed to shovel rock
Five minutes later, the other miners arrived. Allen asked one of them to help him remove a 35.5-inch-by-41-inch section of bar grating on the catwalk by the head roller of the No. 12 belt conveyor in order to shovel out the excess rocks.
They also opened the side door of the discharge chute. Another hinged section of bar grating was lifted off at tail roller of the belt conveyor and the side door of the chute at that end was also opened.
After a few minutes, the miners finished shoveling rock from both conveyor discharge chutes on the No. 12 belt conveyor. The miners at the tail roller closed the hinged bar grating on the catwalk at their end and went back to their other duties.
Allen asked a worker at the head roller end to go check elsewhere for other obstructions. That miner crossed the opening in the catwalk and made his way to where he was instructed to go. The other miners left the area as Allen monitored the conveyor re-start.
Miner found dead on ground below catwalk
The miner who was attempting to re-start the No. 12 belt conveyor called Allen via radio to tell him that it wouldn’t re-start. Allen crossed over the opening in the catwalk to examine the conveyor belt. He then radioed the miner at the control panel that the drive belt looked worn. At 4:45 p.m. he informed the miner at the control panel that he was going to check on one more issue before they tried another re-start. That was the last time anyone heard from Allen.
After repeated radio calls to Allen went unanswered, the miner who had been at the control panel went to look for him. He didn’t see Allen on the catwalk. When he looked down through the opening in the catwalk near the head roller, the miner saw Allen on the ground below. He immediately went to check on him, but couldn’t find a pulse.
Emergency responders declared Allen dead at 5:06 p.m.
Employer wasn’t aware of practice to remove bar grating
MSHA investigators discovered that it was a regular practice for miners to remove sections of bar grating on the catwalk so they could shovel the rock from the conveyor discharge chute through the opening to the ground below. This wasn’t a procedure the mine operator was aware of.
Before Allen’s fall, once the miners completed clearing the chutes, the catwalk bar grating at the tail roller was replaced but not the one by the head roller. Investigators observed Allen’s boot print on the conveyor side support beam, indicating that at some point Allen had walked around the opening in the catwalk at the head roller end.
Based on the examination of the incident scene, Allen apparently stepped through the opening while walking on the catwalk.
Mine operator has since conducted training on fall hazards, PPE
MSHA’s root cause analysis of the incident revealed that the mine operator:
- didn’t barricade or post warnings signs to prevent miners from falling through openings in the catwalk, and
- failed to ensure that miners wore fall protection where there was danger of falling.
The mine operator has since hired a contractor to conduct training sessions on:
- working on elevated surfaces or near areas that create a fall hazard, and
- fall protection, including proper use, donning and proper care of fall PPE.