Final report released for January incident in Alaska

In April, MSHA released its final findings for a surface mining incident that occurred at Teck Alaska’s Red Dog Operations in Kotzebue, Northwest Arctic borough, Alaska.

On Jan. 16, 2021, at approximately 8:00 p.m., Dustin Thomas, a 47-year-old drill operator with seven years of mining experience, died as a result of injuries he suffered when the “J wrench” he was using to remove a down hole drill (DHD) from the drill steel moved unexpectedly, crushing his right thigh between the J wrench and the drill mast.

The operation of 251 workers produces lead-zinc ore in an open pit. In fact, it said, the accident occurred on the 1225 bench of the Qanaiyaq Pit.

The agency noted that it had completed its last regular safety and health inspection at the mine on Aug. 24, 2020, and the mine’s 2019 non-fatal days lost (NFDL) incident rate was 0.34 compared to the national average of 0.79 for mines of this type. MSHA found in its investigation that the incident occurred because mine management did not assure (1) miners working on the drill stayed clear of moving parts and machine pinch points; (2) equipment was turned off or blocked against hazardous motion while conducting maintenance activities; (3) miners followed the equipment manufacturer’s written procedures for de-tooling the machine; and (4) miners were provided adequate task training for the removal of the DHD.

In its corrective actions section of the report, MSHA said Red Dog Operations updated their written policies and procedures to include periodic field reviews of de-tooling and drill maintenance activities to assure that miners stay clear of moving drill parts. The operator also trained all miners and managers on the new policies and procedures.

“Red Dog Operations [additionally] trained miners and managers on the new policy which includes placing the J wrench on the backhead so that the J wrench is slightly above the drill’s deck, and remaining clear of pinch points as stated in the manufacturer’s manual.”

Finally, the mine revised their task training plan to require management observation of new drill operators’ performance of drilling procedures, including de-tooling the DHD, during non-production sessions.

“If any hazardous conditions or practices are observed, management will immediately conduct re-training,” MSHA said. “The mine operator provided task training to all drill operators on how to safely operate, and de-tool, an Atlas Copco drill.”

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