We don’t ususally hear about tragedies at surface mines, but they happen. Slope stability accidents and highwall failures are one of the leading causes of fatalities at U.S. surface mining operations, according to NIOSH.
Here is a list of some of the highwall accidents reported by Mine Safety and Health News:
April 17, 2007: Tri-Star Mining, Inc., Barton, Allegany County, Maryland , Dale Jones, 51 and Michael Wilt, 38 killed in a massive highwall collapsed, burying the two coal miners under 93,000 tons of rock. The company’s ground control plan did not adequately address highwall conditions, and obvious hazards were allowed to exist. Examinations conducted on days prior to and the day of the accident were inadequate. In addition, training did not make miners aware of the hazards introduced by previous underground mining. Severe subsidence above both the Sewickley and Pittsburgh coal seams, resulting from extensive underground mining, caused the highwall to be extremely fractured. Pillar remnants in the Pittsburgh seam represented a severely weakened layer near the base of the highwall.
March 17, 2006: National Coal Straight Creek #2 Mine, a surface coal mine, in Bell and Harlan counties, Kentucky. The highwall at the mine collapsed in the late afternoon or early evening. Two pieces of equipment, a highwall miner and a front-end loader, were damaged in the collapse.
July 18, 2006: Hendrickson Equipment, Inc., Smith Branch No. 1 mine, Jason Mosley, a 28-year-old highwall drill operator, was operating a highwall drill adjacent to a 43-foot highwall. As he was drilling the eighth hole of the day, rock fell onto the cab of the drill, resulting in fatal injuries to Mosley. The rock fall measured 32 feet high by 19 feet wide by 7 feet thick.
December 6, 2004: Kuhl Sand & Gravel, Inc., Erie, Erie County, Pennsylvania (MSHA ID36-07715) . Donald D. Kuhl, was killed when he was trapped in the cab of a front-end loader by falling material while operating a front-end loader digging material near the base of a 65 foot highwall when approximately 445 tons of sand and gravel material fell off the highwall and partially buried the loader. Mining was being conducted at the base of a near vertical, 65 feet highwall that was not benched or sloped to the angle of repose. The mine operator had been cited on several previous occasions for failing to utilize safe mining methods in this same area.
November 13, 2002: MASTER AGGREGATES TOA BAJA CORP., Cantera Isabela, a crushed limestone quarry located in Isabela, Puerto Rico. On November 13, 2002 at approximately 1:45 p.m., part of the highwall collapsed onto the bulldozer, crushing Mr. Rios-Beauchamp to death. Cited: