A fine of more than $1 million was recently delivered to a mine owner following two fatalities.
The Department of Labor has fined operators of an Ouray, Colorado silver mine $1.077 million for repeated, blatant safety violations that led to the “entirely preventable” deaths of two workers last year.
The Mine Safety and Health Administration’s report found that, ignoring regulations and repeated warnings, the operators of the Revenue Mine disposed of deteriorating explosives by detonating them inside of the mine, filling it with toxic gas. They did not seal off or ventilate the area and ignored complaints from miners who fell ill from the fumes.
Two miners on that evening shift became ill while working in that area and retreated from the mine. A third miner also returned to the surface after encountering what he called “bad air.”
Despite complaints to mine management from the three miners, no action was taken to identify, correct or report the hazardous condition in the drift. When explosives are detonated, carbon monoxide is released into the atmosphere. It is a toxic gas that can pose a serious risk to workers in an underground mine.
The following morning, two members of the day-shift crew traveled into the drift to observe the results of the shots fired on the previous day.
One of the miners, Nick Cappanno, who had one month of mining experience, was overcome by toxic levels of carbon monoxide, while the other miner was able to retreat from the area. In an attempt to rescue Cappanno, the shift boss, Rick Williams, entered the drift and was also overcome by carbon monoxide.
MSHA investigators determined that the fatal accident occurred due to management’s failure to dispose of deteriorated explosives in a safe manner. The explosives were detonated in an area of the mine that was not ventilated, and no post-blast examination was conducted.
Management also failed to take any action when two miners went into the unventilated Monogahela Drift and reported feeling ill, and it failed to withdraw miners as a result of the imminent danger created by the blast. Management did not establish an accurate and viable ventilation plan, barricade or seal un ventilated areas, or properly train new employees on mine health and safety procedures.
As a result of its investigation, MSHA issued eight unwarrantable failure orders, including six designated as flagrant workplace safety violations. A flagrant violation is defined as “a reckless or repeated failure to make reasonable efforts to eliminate a known violation of a mandatory safety and health standard that substantially and proximate caused, or reasonably could have been expected to cause, death or serious bodily injury.”
“Mr. Cappanno and Mr. Williams’ deaths were entirely preventable,” said Joseph A. Main, assistant secretary of labor for mine safety and health. “They were the result of mine management’s failure to establish and follow basic safety precautions.”