Whitesburg KY

Miner dies after being hurt in scoop mishap

A southeastern Kentucky coal miner has died after being injured in an accident involving a scoop earlier this month.

The Mine Safety and Health Administration says in a preliminary report that 45-year-old Joseph D. Roberts was riding on top of a scoop on July 17 when he was injured at the Butcher Branch Mine near Beverly in Bell County. The report says the driver attempted to stop the scoop loaded with rock dust bags by dropping the bucket to the mine floor, causing the scoop to bow and pin Roberts against the mine’s roof.

Roberts was hospitalized in Bristol, Tenn., where he died on July 25 during emergency surgery.

The Lexington Herald-Leader reports it’s the first underground mining death for the state in more than a year and a half.

MSHA spokesman Matthew Faraci says there will be no conclusions about the incident until a final report is made public.

Tony Oppegard, a mine safety attorney from Lexington, said federal law prohibits using a piece of equipment to haul an employee when supplies are also being transported.

“The federal law is pretty clear on that,” said Oppegard, who is a former attorney for MSHA and the state Office of Mine Safety and Licensing. “Investigators need to find out whether or not this was an isolated incident or a reoccurring practice … because it is obviously dangerous and should never be done.”

Oppegard said it appears that inoperable brakes on the scoop directly contributed to the mishap.

“If the scoop’s brakes had been working, the operator would not have needed to drop the loaded bucket to stop the scoop,” Oppegard said.

Roberts’ death marks the first time Kentucky has had an underground mine fatality since Nov. 4, 2006, a record for the state, which has the most coal mines in the nation.

This year in Kentucky, two people have been killed in surface mining accidents.

On Jan. 8, Roy Douglas Sturgill II, 29, was killed after he backed his Caterpillar rock truck over a dumping point at Cumberland River Coal Co. Inc.’s Blue Ridge Mine at Ovenfork in Letcher County. On June 3, a 33- year-old tree cutter with 10 years’ experience was fatally injured while cutting trees in advance of a surface mining operation.

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