A federal investigation into a worker’s death in a belt conveyor revealed an employer’s inadequate machine guarding, lockout/tagout and inspection procedures, all of which contributed to the fatal incident.
The worker, who had 27 years of experience, didn’t lock out the conveyor system before attempting to clear debris from the belt, failed to ensure a guard was in place on the machine and didn’t perform an adequate pre-op inspection.
Only partially shut down
Richard Crum was a member of the Soft Rock Crew at the Brooksville Quarry, a Florida mine owned and operated by CEMEX Construction Materials Florida.
Crum’s duties involved operating a portable crushing plant, consisting of a portable crusher and belt conveyor powered by a diesel engine. He was also responsible for maintenance and repair of the machine. Other duties included using a front-end loader to remove rock from under the conveyor.
On Dec. 31, 2021, Crum and the rest of the crew – two bulldozer operators who were responsible for putting rock into the crusher – began working in the quarry around the portable plant.
When Crum wasn’t running the portable plant, he was either operating the front-end loader or walking around the portable plant checking on process issues caused by damp soil that clung to the rocks.
At 8:45 a.m., Crum noticed he needed to remove some of the damp, fine material on the belt to prevent build-up that could cause belt alignment and housekeeping issues. One of the bulldozer operators had a remote control that could de-energize the portable plant’s feeder mechanism, so Crum signaled her to shut it down.
With the feeder mechanism shut down, Crum went under the plant’s crusher to perform the maintenance. However, even though the feeder was de-energized, the conveyor system, crusher and diesel engine remained energized and active.
Entangled in feed belt
By 8:59 a.m., the bulldozer operator hadn’t seen Crum return from under the portable plant, so she radioed the other bulldozer operator and asked him to check on Crum. When the second bulldozer operator looked under the portable plant, he saw Crum entangled in the feed belt, so he signaled to have the entire piece of equipment de-energized.
They radioed for help, resulting in one employee arriving at the scene to help with CPR while another called 9-1-1. Emergency responders arrived at 9:12 a.m. Crum was pronounced dead from his injuries at 9:19 a.m.
Bad work practices were allowed
Investigators from the U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) found that all of the remote functions of the portable plant functioned properly. Emergency stop buttons on the plant itself were also functional. The failure to lockout the entire plant before going under it to perform maintenance contributed to the incident.
There were visible warning signs all around the portable plant alerting workers of the multiple hazards present as well as warnings to keep all guards in place. Despite the warnings, investigators found the mine operator didn’t provide a guard that should have been in use while the machine was energized. This missing guard also contributed to the incident.
Further, the guard had been missing for the eight months the portable plant had been in use at the mine and Crum had never recorded this on his daily pre-op inspection forms. A review of inspection records revealed “that inadequate pre-operational inspections of the crusher had been performed, which allowed hazards to go unreported and uncorrected.”
Investigators found the mine operator allowed all of these work practices to occur, resulting in them becoming part of Crum’s routine. This was corroborated by one of Crum’s co-workers.
Employer developed new procedures
The mine operator has since developed new procedures requiring:
- that the belt conveyor be de-energized, locked and tagged out, tested to assure it is de-energized and blocked against hazardous motion before removing guards or performing cleaning or maintenance, and
- proper pre-operational inspections and defining which equipment must be inspected, the items on the equipment to be inspected and how to address any safety defects.
Guards were also installed on the portable plant to prevent entanglement with moving machine parts.