‘Fatalgram’ Offers Potential Insights Into Revenue-Virginius Accident
by Samantha Wright
Dec 05, 2013 | 2736 views | 0 0 comments | 39 39 recommendations | email to a friend | print
BACK TO WORK? – The gate at the entrance to the Revenue-Virginius Mine was open last weekend. According to reports, work at the mine continues, even as MSHA’s investigation into last month’s fatal accident gets underway. (Photo by Elise Thatcher/Aspen Public Radio)
BACK TO WORK? – The gate at the entrance to the Revenue-Virginius Mine was open last weekend. According to reports, work at the mine continues, even as MSHA’s investigation into last month’s fatal accident gets underway. (Photo by Elise Thatcher/Aspen Public Radio)
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OURAY – Investigators with the federal Mine Safety and Health Administration issued a “fatalgram” on Tuesday, Dec. 3, regarding last month’s deadly accident at the Revenue-Virginius Mine.

According to the U.S. Department of Labor website, Fatal Alert Bulletins and fatalgrams “are part of the Mine Safety and Health Administration's (MSHA) program to alert the mining industry in a timely manner of a tragic loss of life in the mines.” 

Tuesday’s fatalgram summarizes the accident that took the lives of rookie miner Nick Cappanno of Montrose, and his shift supervisor, Rick Williams of Durango, a mile and a half inside the historic mine. “On Nov. 17, 2013,” it states, “a 33-year old powderman trainee with five weeks of experience and a 59-year old shift supervisor with 36 years of experience were killed at a silver mine. The two miners were in an area of the mine where explosives had been detonated the day before. Other miners working in the area were able to evacuate. Mine rescue teams entered the mine, found the two victims, and brought them to the surface. During the recovery operation, rescue teams detected fatal levels of carbon monoxide. Twenty miners were taken to the hospital and three were kept overnight.”

The report goes on to outline a number of “best practices” which, if properly executed, could possibly have prevented the accident, suggesting the investigation has raised concerns about effective workplace safety examinations, ventilation, gas detection instruments, proper evacuation procedures, and the proper disposal of “damaged or deteriorated explosive material” relating to Star Mine’s operation at the Revenue-Virginius Mine.

Specific “best practices” listed in the report:

• Conduct effective workplace examinations. Identify all hazards and take action to correct them.

• Ensure all active working areas are ventilated prior to allowing miners to work in those areas.

• Monitor gasses as frequently as necessary to determine the adequacy of control measures.

• Use properly maintained and calibrated gas detection instruments with alarms for

concentrations outside of safe limits that are audible and visual.

• Ensure all miners are trained to recognize all potential hazards and emergency procedures, including evacuation procedures.

• Dispose of damaged or deteriorated explosive material in a safe manner in accordance with the instructions of the manufacturer.

One of the many unanswered questions about the Nov. 17 accident is the nature and purpose of the “detonation” that, according to the MSHA fatalgram, took place one day before the accident, in the work area where Cappanno and Williams would encounter the deadly carbon monoxide gas that killed them. 

That final item listed in the “best practices” cited in the report suggests that it was not a routine blast (associated with drilling holes in rock, loading those holes with explosives and then blasting the rock to advance work within a mine) that led to the two deaths, but rather an explosive event whose purpose was to dispose of “damaged or deteriorated explosive material.” 

The kind and quantity of explosives involved in this event is not discussed in the fatalgram, and has not yet been confirmed by any authoritative sources.

According to MSHA’s website, the information provided in fatalgrams is based on preliminary data only, and represents neither final determinations regarding the nature of the incident nor conclusions regarding the causes of the fatalities. The investigation will culminate, sometime in the coming weeks or months, in a full accident report.

In the meantime, Amy Louviere, National Public Information Officer with MSHA’s Office of Public Affairs,  has said that MSHA investigators will not answer questions from the media about the accident while their investigation is in progress. 

Rory Williams, the 25-year-old project manager of the Denver-based Star Mine Operations that took over the historic Revenue-Virginius Mine in 2011 in a bid to bring it back into production, did not respond to recent inquiries from The Watch related to the deadly accident and about reports of continued operations at the mine.

According to the Denver Post, Williams has ordered his mine employees not to talk about the accident, “or anything else to do with operations at the mine, while the investigation is underway.” 

But local reports indicate that at least some miners are now back on the job, even as the investigation continues to unfold. It is not clear how many miners will return to their jobs. But 

Ray Lucero of the Montrose and Delta Workforce Centers said in an email that he has not been informed about “whether the mine plans to continue paying those employees as if they were on the job or furloughing them or laying them off.” 

As of last week, Lucero said, "We have not seen any miners coming into the Montrose or Delta WFC asking about unemployment."

swright@watchnewspapers.com or Tweet @iamsamwright

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