The owner of a mine was struck and killed by a bulldozer he was performing maintenance on because the company failed to ensure that workers blocked equipment against hazardous motion.
U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) investigators found that the mine didn’t have any procedures that required workers to block equipment they were servicing while in the maintenance shop.
He had 51 years of experience working with bulldozers
Jimmy Wooten Sr. was the owner and operator of the Wooten Sand & Gravel Inc. mine in Miller County, Arkansas. The mine had 12 employees, including Wooten and his son, Jimmy Wooten Jr.
Wooten Sr. had more than 14 years of mining experience and over 51 years of experience as a bulldozer operator.
On Aug. 4, 2022, at 3:25 p.m., Wooten Sr. was seen by other workers walking around the mine’s bulldozer, which was parked just outside the maintenance shop with its front blade resting on a steel pipe inside a maintenance shop bay.
About 15 minutes later, Wooten Jr. passed by the shop and noticed that the bulldozer had moved farther outside of the shop and had its engine covers reinstalled.
Driver finds bulldozer outside shop, owner laying on ground
At 3:45 p.m., a haul truck driver went to the shop for transmission fluid and found Wooten Sr. lying on the ground. Later, investigators determined that the bulldozer traveled in reverse, ran over Wooten Sr. and came to a stop against a steel chute that was laying on the ground.
The haul truck driver checked Wooten Sr. for a pulse but couldn’t find one. He used his cell phone to call Wooten Jr. Emergency responders were called at 3:55 p.m. Wooten Sr. was pronounced dead at the scene at 5:15 p.m.
Service manual’s safety steps weren’t followed
An MSHA investigation revealed that the bulldozer had no mechanical problems that contributed to the incident. Wooten Sr. and his son had begun a scheduled preventive maintenance on the bulldozer the day before the incident. He was likely finishing up the task on the day of the incident.
MSHA investigators discovered that the bulldozer’s operations manual had a list of safety steps that needed to be followed before maintenance was performed, including ensuring that:
- the bulldozer blade must be lowered to the ground
- the work equipment lock lever must be in the lock position, locking the bulldozer blade
- the parking brake lever must be in the lock position
- the engine must be turned off
- if the engine has to be running during maintenance, then two workers must be present, and
- the tracks must be blocked against motion when inspection and maintenance is performed.
The operation and maintenance manual states that not following these safety procedures may lead to serious injury or death. Investigators determined that these safety procedures were not followed.
Owner accidentally put bulldozer in reverse
By piecing together the evidence and interviews conducted during the investigation, MSHA found that when the haul truck driver found Wooten Sr., the bulldozer was idling in reverse, the parking brake wasn’t set and the control lever for the joystick control was raised.
The parking brake lever for the joystick must be raised in order to access the fuse panel. A fuse panel cover on the front left side of the seat assembly was removed and laying on the bulldozer’s floor. None of the fuses were missing and the internal cover that exposes the fuses hadn’t been removed.
Evidence indicates that Wooten Sr. was standing on the bulldozer’s left track, looking into the fuse panel when he inadvertently pushed the left joystick back, placing the bulldozer in reverse. The movement caused Wooten Sr. to fall onto the track where he was dragged back to the rear of the bulldozer and run over.
Mine developed new safety procedures for repairing equipment
MSHA determined the root cause of this tragic incident was the mine’s failure to ensure that the bulldozer was blocked against hazardous motion before performing maintenance.
The mine has since developed new written procedures that require all miners to:
- set the parking brake on mobile equipment when parked and when repairs or maintenance is being performed, and
- block or use other means to prevent unintended motion of mobile equipment should the motor need to be running or the vehicle be in gear for testing purposes.