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Poor ventilation kills underground coal employee

Underground coal mine drowning
Underground coal mine drowning

Ineffective air circulation took a subterranean mine worker’s life, an investigation found.

Authorities recently examined why Christopher Finley drowned to death at Twin State Mining’s Underground Coal Mine No. 39.

The 39 year-old section foreman passed away while installing a discharge waterline for a 240 volt Stancore P20CE dewatering pump, between entries five and six, at about 9:40pm on 18 August 2023.

“Finley walked over to the left return and began laying out the waterline in water and mud up to his waist. Finley experienced a lot of difficulty in walking due to the depth of the water and thickness of the mud and was stuck in the mud several times,” the Mine Safety and Health Administration said in its final report.

“Evening shift foreman Ronald Estepp and Finley stayed within verbal communication while Estepp pulled the waterline in by one crosscut, approximately 100 feet (30.4 metres). When Finley stopped responding within two minutes Estepp went to check on him … and found him face down in approximately eight to 10 inches (20.3cm to 25.4cm) of water. Estepp ran to Finley and pulled him up from the water yelling his name. Finley gave no response.”

Roof bolter Daniel Collins checked Finley’s pulse but did not find one. Finley was transported to a nearby hospital where he was pronounced dead at 10:44pm

Investigators eventually found pump circuit wiring contained multiple faulty splices that could have been exposed to dirty water containing contaminants that increase electrical conductivity. The circuit breaker also failed to trip during electrical shock.

“The power cable had a one inch (2.54cm) opening in the outer jacket exposing the inner current carrying conductors. Moisture was also present inside the opening,” the report said.

“Suitable connectors were not used in two of the splices. The conductors in these splices were only twisted together.”

Investigators concluded the victim failed to comply with the approved ventilation plan to prevent water from accumulating and affecting safe travel. He also neglected to perform an adequate weekly examination of the return air course.

The employer responded by removing water and mud in affected areas, spreading gravel and removing tripping/stumbling hazards for a safer travel way.

Employees have also been retraining in recognising, reporting and correcting hazardous conditions during weekly examinations.

Click here to read the full report.

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