In the spring of 2019, the Mine Safety & Health Administration released the results of two investigations into 2018 mining fatalities.
Lee Smith Mine
MSHA released its final report March 25 on the Oct. 25, 2018 fatality at the Lee Smith Mine about 50 miles north of Elko. The mine, which is operated by Small Mine Development, was issued a citation by the agency.
“The accident occurred because mine management policies, procedures and controls were inadequate to ensure the establishment and maintenance of safe ground conditions where persons work or travel,” the report said.
Idaho-based SMD operates the Lee Smith Mine for Jerritt Canyon Gold, a Toronto-based private company. SMD began production there in 2010, and Jerritt Canyon Gold purchased the Jerritt Canyon Complex in 2015.
The MSHA report said Jason Holman, a 42-year-old powderman with eight years of experience, was fatally injured. Holman and Robert Pierce had nearly completed loading blastholes when Pierce received a radio call about a broken air line in need of repair. Holman continued loading blastholes while Pierce went to the cab of the powder truck to get tools to repair the air line. At 4:50 p.m. the cemented rock fill in the roof of the area collapsed. Pierce was thrown out of the cab of the truck by the force of the collapsing CRF.
Keith Jones, general manager of Small Mine Development, said they estimated that about 67 tons of CRF fell. The cavity created in the ceiling was a domed area about 19 feet across with a maximum height of about seven feet.
The MSHA report said that since the accident, “Mine management has revised policies, procedures and controls for producing the CRF and provided training on the policies, procedures, and controls for the employees. Mine management is conducting follow-up testing of the backfill and load cells have been calibrated at the batch plant.”
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Following the accident, operations at the Lee Smith mine were halted and the miners were furloughed until December. The mine resumed operations in stages after that. Previously, there had been around 80 employees at the mine.
Pete Bajo mine
On April 2 MSHA released its final report on the Nov. 11, 2018 fatality at the Pete Bajo mine west of Elko. The report said Romney Natapu, a 45-year-old underground technician with more than eight years of experience, was fatally injured “when he exited the load-haul-dump he was operating without properly securing it. The LHD rolled forward and ran over him.”
Pete Bajo is one of four underground mines in Newmont Mining Corp.’s operations on the Carlin Trend.
The MHSA report said that on the afternoon of the accident, Natapu drove an LHD into a section of the mine to start cleaning up a heading in preparation for drilling. A foreman later discovered Natapu beneath the left front tire.
The report said investigators concluded that “Upon exiting the operator’s cab the victim did not follow company policies, procedures, and controls by: 1) lowering the bucket to the ground; 2) setting the parking brake; 3) turning the engine off; and 4) chocking the wheels or turning the LHD into the rib. The victim walked down the decline for an unknown reason and the LHD rolled forward, running over him.”
“Investigators examined the steering and transmission joystick controls located on the front-left side of the operator’s seat,” the MSHA report said. “The controls were found to be defective, in that the transmission failed to automatically shift into neutral when the locking lever was engaged. However, this was determined to not be a factor in the accident, and a non-contributory citation was issued.”
The LHD was a R1600G Caterpillar loader, which is about 33 feet long, over eight feet wide and weighs almost 66,000 pounds.
The area where the accident occurred had an average grade of 6.5 percent, and declined toward the backfill face with an average grade of 12 percent, the report said.
A citation was issued to the mine management for being in violation of the regulation for parking procedures for unattended equipment.