MSHA cites contractor over June 2011 fatal at Arch Coal mine

A contractor working at Arch Coal’s (NYSE:ACI) West Elk longwall mine in Colorado has been cited twice by the U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration over a fatal accident at the mine in June 2011.

Fred Benally, a 53 year old contract ironworker with 12 years mining experience, was killed when he slipped and fell from a beam at the scalping tower construction site, said a final MSHA accident report issued March 27. Benally and two other ironworkers were working on the second floor of the scalping tower to remove a chute plate. Benally was standing on an 11-inch wide steel beam, which was covered with coal, coal dust and chunks of coal. He unhooked the lanyard which was secured to a beam anchor. While positioning to climb up to the floor grating above to reattach his lanyard, Benally slipped and fell. After falling about eight feet, he struck a crossbeam with his chest before landing on his back on a conveyor belt cover.

Benally was working for contractor Rocky Mountain Steel. MSHA issued one citation to the contractor because safety belts and lines were not used to protect the victim from the danger of falling. A second citation was issued to Rocky Mountain Steel because an 11-inch wide steel beam located 25 inches below the second floor grating of the scalping tower construction site was not kept clear of all extraneous material and other stumbling or slipping hazards, in that it was covered with coal, coal dust, and chunks of coal.

The West Elk mine, located one mile east of Somerset, Colo., is operated by Mountain Coal Co. LLC, a subsidiary of Arch Coal. The mine produces about 4.8 million tons of coal per year, the MSHA report noted. Coal is produced by two development (continuous miner) sections and one longwall section. The coal is transported from the underground mine to a raw coal pile on the surface. An overland belt transports the coal to a newly-built preparation plant. The mine employs about 360 personnel, of which 45 miners work at the preparation plant.

“West Elk is an underground mining complex located on approximately 17,800 acres in Gunnison County, Colorado,” said Arch Coal’s Feb. 29 annual Form 10-K report. “The West Elk mining complex extracts steam coal from the E seam. We control a significant portion of the coal reserves through federal and state leases. The West Elk mining complex had approximately 88.3 million tons of proven and probable reserves at December 31, 2011. Without the addition of more coal reserves, the current reserves could sustain current production levels through 2021 before annual output starts to significantly decline.”

Most of the coal from the mine is shipped raw to customers via the Union Pacific railroad. In 2010, Arch finished a new prep plant with supporting coal handling facilities to wash some of the mine’s production for particular customers that need certain coal specs that the raw coal can’t meet.

About Barry Cassell 20414 Articles
Barry Cassell is Chief Analyst for GenerationHub covering coal and emission controls issues, projects and policy. He has covered the coal and power generation industry for more than 24 years, beginning in November 2011 at GenerationHub and prior to that as editor of SNL Energy’s Coal Report. He was formerly with Coal Outlook for 15 years as the publication’s editor and contributing writer, and prior to that he was editor of Coal & Synfuels Technology and associate editor of The Energy Report. He has a bachelor’s degree from Central Michigan University.