Peabody cited in fatal accident at Kayenta Mine

By Cindy Yurth, Navajo Times
May 03, 2007

CHINLE - Faulty circuitry and short-cutting safety procedures led to the Nov. 5 accident at Peabody Western Coal Co.'s Kayenta Mine that cost a Rough Rock man his life, the federal Mine Safety and Health Administration has concluded.

The final report appeared on MSHA's Web site last week.

Peabody was issued a citation and five orders in connection with the mishap, in which electrician Howard Harvey Sr., 52, was electrocuted while working on the cable to the dragline.

According to the report, Peabody has corrected all the factors that led to the accident. A monetary penalty has not been announced by MSHA.

Harvey was found dead by hi fellow evening-shift electrician, Albert Dandy, at 9:10 p.m. while the men were troubleshooting the cable.

The men had turned the power off to work on the dragline - a machine used to remove rock layers to get to coal seams - but the dragline crew had become cold and turned on an auxiliary generator to supply heat to the cab[le], the report states.

The dragline circuit backfed through the main transformers, energizing the trailing cable and sending 23,000 volts of electricity through Harvey's body.

Peabody spokesperson Beth Sutton said the company does not agree with the report findings as to the root cause of the accident and plans to have further discussions with MSHA about it.

MSHA investigators cited several factors that led to the accident:

  • The circuitry on the dragline was not equipped with a safety transfer switch, which would have isolated the auxiliary power and prevented the backfeeding.
  • A mechanical interlock device between the auxiliary circuit breaker and the normal power circuit breaker was not properly installed. The interlock should have prevented the normal and auxiliary power circuits from being energized at the same time.
  • Repeated regular inspections failed to turn up the faults in the circuit, even though a wiring diagram on board the dragline clearly showed a safety transfer switch that wasn't actually there.
  • The employee who turned on the auxiliary power was not an electrician and should not have been issued a key to the electrical switches.
  • The dragline crew did not consult Dandy and Harvey before switching on the auxiliary power. They told MSHA inspectors they had tried to contact the men on the two-way radio but couldn't reach them. They did contact the electrical supervisor, who allowed them to turn on the power but told them to contact the electricians as soon as possible.
  • Harvey locked out (isolated) the circuit, but did not tag it (to ensure other employees knew he was working on the circuit), or properly ground it. Although his supervisor was on the scene he did not ensure that the safety procedures were followed.

MSHA cited Peabody for failing to provide a safe working environment because of the faulty circuitry in the dragline, and ordered the company to correct the lapses in safety procedures.

Sutton said the accident occurred because established standards of practice were not followed, and that the employees who were involved were disciplined or terminated.

"Safety is a core value at Peabody operations," Sutton said in a statement issued Wednesday. "This was an isolated incident that is a regrettable exception to the best practices that are used at Kayenta Mine and the record of safety that our employees have achieved."

According to the MSHA report, Peabody management has removed the auxiliary generator from the dragline and does not intend to replace it. A new, numbered key system is in effect with the non-duplicatable keys issued only to qualified electricians, and a checklist has been written for inspectors so they will be less likely to miss problems such as the faults in the circuitry.

Electricians have also been retrained on proper lock-out, tag-out and ground procedures.

According to the report, the Kayenta Mine had an exemplary safety record prior to the accident, having lost only half a day due to accidents between January and September 2006, compared with a national average of a day and a half.

The last fatality at the Kayenta Mine was in 1997 when a motor being transported on a flatbed truck came loose and crashed into the truck's cab, crushing the driver.

The fatality rate for the Kayenta Mine prior to the accident was 0.00 compared to a national rate of 0.09, according to William G. Denning, accident investigation coordinator for MSHA's Western District, headquartered in Denver.


Reprinted as an historical reference document under the Fair Use doctrine of international copyright law.