Star Mine Operations LLC is facing a fine of $1,077,800 after two miners died at Revenue Mine underground silver ore mine Nov. 17, last year, said officials at the Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA).
Around 2 p.m. on the day before the accident occurred, 1,600 pounds of deteriorated explosives ended up detonated underground in an open air blast at the Ouray County, CO, mine.
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Crew members of the next shift, which reported to work later that evening, were neither notified of the blasting activities on the previous shift, nor was the area where the explosives were set off — called the Monogahela Drift — barricaded to prevent miners from entering.
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, there was no activity to identify, correct or report the hazardous condition in the drift. When explosives detonate, carbon monoxide releases 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, ended up 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 also suffered from carbon monoxide exposure. Twenty other miners ended up exposed to carbon monoxide while unsuccessfully attempting to rescue the two victims. Seven of them ended up hospitalized.
MSHA investigators determined the fatal accident occurred due to management’s failure to dispose of deteriorated explosives in a safe manner. The explosives ended up detonated in an area of the mine that did not have ventilation, and officials did not conduct a post-blast examination.
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 unventilated areas, or properly train new employees on mine health and safety procedures. Finally, MSHA did not receive immediate notification of the reportable accident involving the two miners falling ill during the evening shift on Nov. 16 when they ended up exposed to toxic gasses caused by the blast in the Monogahela Drift.
After the accident, officials removed 400 pounds of damaged and deteriorated explosives from the mine and safely detonated by the U.S. Department of Justice’s Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives and the City of Grand Junction, Colorado’s, Grand Junction Bomb Squad. The remaining explosives ended up removed from the mine’s underground storage facilities, inventoried, separated by product type and date code, and stored in surface magazines.
As a result of its investigation, MSHA issued eight unwarrantable failure orders, including six designated as flagrant violations. A flagrant violation is “a reckless or repeated failure to make reasonable efforts to eliminate a known violation of a mandatory safety and health standard that substantially and proximately 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.”