RENO — Inadequate safety policies and procedures were primarily to blame for a mining accident that killed a 26-year-old Idaho man operating a 20-ton mobile drill in an underground tunnel at a Nevada gold mine last summer, federal safety investigators have concluded.
The U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration cited and fined Small Mine Development LLC more than $6,000 in the Aug. 3 death of Jason Potter of Lava Hot Springs, Idaho. He was struck and killed by part of a tool he was hauling to bore holes in solid rock walls so explosives can be loaded to reach gold ore at the SSX Mine near Elko, about 300 miles northeast of Reno.
“The accident occurred due to management’s failure to ensure that loading and transporting of materials were done in a safe manner,” the agency concluded.
Officials for Small Mine Development LLC based in Boise, Idaho, did not immediately respond to requests for comment on Tuesday. The Elko Daily Free Press first reported the agency’s conclusion on its website earlier Tuesday.
Potter, whose job title was jumbo drill operator, was backing the 41-foot long, 41,900-pound piece of machinery up a 10 percent slope in the tunnel when a 13.5-foot long drill steel similar to a drill bit apparently ran into a wall and “sprang back, striking and killing” him, the federal mining agency said. His official cause of death was blunt-force trauma.
“The drill steel was loaded and transported ... in such a manner that it created a hazard to the jumbo drill operator by extending past the end of the jumbo drill approximately 2.5 feet, “ the agency said. “Additionally, the drill steel was not secured in a manner that prevented (it) steel from sliding side to side” causing it to strike the wall and then Potter.
Evidence indicated Potter wasn’t wearing a required seatbelt at the time of the accident, but federal mining agency concluded the “root cause” of the accident was “management’s policies and procedures were inadequate and failed to ensure that persons loaded and transported materials in a safe manner.”
Potter had four years of underground mine experience and had been at the SSX Mine for 42 weeks. The agency found his training records and documents complied with federal laws.
As of Jan. 10, the company had paid all but about $900 of the $6,279 the federal mining agency proposed for 21 separate violations, the agency’s website showed Tuesday. It wasn’t clear whether the company is in the processing of paying that money or challenging some of the fines, Mine Safety and Health Administration spokeswoman Amy Louviere said in an email to The Associated Press.