A federal investigation found that it was a mine operator’s fault that a contractor worker died of carbon monoxide poisoning while waiting for a late train in his personal vehicle during his shift.
U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) investigators determined that the mine operator and contractor didn’t ensure that the worker’s personal vehicle was maintained in a safe operating condition.
Waiting in personal vehicles was common practice
On Dec. 22, 2022, Aidan Coon was working at the Wellmore No. 8 Prep Plant mine in Buchanan County, Virginia. Coon worked for SNF Mining, a contractor hired by the mine to spray train coal cars with an anti-freezing chemical during the winter months.
Coon began his shift at 12 a.m. His duties included making sure the proper amount of anti-freezing chemical was being applied to the coal that came from the mine’s prep plant. He would monitor the amount of coal coming from the plant and adjust the chemical application based on coal flow rates.
That night, the mine was expecting a train to arrive, which would require Coon to apply the anti-freezing spray to the coal cars. However, the train didn’t arrive on time. This led Coon to do what he normally did in such a situation: wait in his personal vehicle, a 2011 Ford Escape. Waiting for a late train in a personal vehicle was a normal practice among the SNF Mining workers.
MSHA: His death should be ‘charged to mining industry’
At 12 p.m., another SNF Mining employee arrived to relieve Coon, who was still in his personal vehicle with the engine running and the doors locked. The other employee thought Coon was asleep and attempted to wake him, but could not.
The other employee called 9-1-1 while other miners arrived and broke the window out of the passenger side door of Coon’s vehicle. They pulled him out and began CPR. Emergency responders pronounced him dead at 2:09 p.m.
MSHA investigators received Coon’s death certificate and autopsy report on April 12, 2023, with both stating that Coon died from carbon monoxide poisoning. After further investigation, MSHA determined that Coon’s death should be “charged to the mining industry.”
Damaged exhaust, failure to maintain contact led to fatality
During the investigation, MSHA found that Coon’s Ford Escape had pre-existing damage to the rear passenger side, a missing light assembly and a damaged exhaust system, which allowed exhaust fumes to enter the interior of the vehicle. This directly led to the fatality, according to investigators who faulted both the mine and the contractor for failing to ensure Coon’s vehicle was properly maintained.
Investigators also found that the mine operator didn’t maintain constant communication with the SNF Mining workers. The standard procedure was to find them in their personal vehicles when they were needed.
New procedure doesn’t allow use of personal vehicles
MSHA declared the root cause for Coon’s death was the mine operator and contractor failing to ensure the personal vehicle, which was used during Coon’s shift, was maintained in a safe operating condition.
The mine and SNF Mining have since developed a new written procedure that doesn’t allow miners or contractors to stay in their personal vehicles. Further, the mine now provides an area for workers to monitor the coal belt and spray the railroad coal cars.