MSHA calls out Arch Coal in miner’s death

Arch Coal put miners in hazardous positions

Pickups, dozer worked down hill, behind giant power shovel

Decrepit shovel lost ‘propel function;’ rolled back, crushed Dowdy’s truck

Arch Coal knowingly placed miners in hazardous positions when it moved shovels in the Black Thunder mine last year, and the practice was responsible for the death of miner Jacob Dowdy last year, federal mine inspectors charge.
Photo of Jacob Dowdy, miner killed in Aug. 16, 2013 acccident

Jacob Dowdy

The shovel was in poor condition and improperly maintained, the inspectors found. Inspectors for the Mine Safety and Health Administration released their investigation of the death of Dowdy, who was crushed inside his pickup on Aug. 16, 2013 mine when a huge shovel’s steering mechanism and brakes failed as it moved up a ramp. MSHA’s brief overview and detailed description of the accident follow. (The full report can be found here.) All of the following is copied directly from the report:


At 12:35 a.m. on August 16, 2013, Jacob Dowdy, Utility Miner, received fatal crushing injuries when a P&H electric shovel, model 2800 Mark II (see Appendix A Figure A),  was being moved out of the 4 West Pit coal seam area.  The shovel lost its ability to tram (propel function) and rolled freely down the grade striking several objects including high voltage electrical junction boxes, a Caterpillar D-11 bulldozer, and two Ford F350 pick-up trucks.  Mr. Dowdy was the operator of the first pick-up truck struck.  Mike Lewis, the miner in the second pick-up truck, was pinned and had to be extricated from the truck. The accident occurred due to a combination of three factors.  The shovel was being operated at or above the grade capabilities of the propel function, a steering shaft was twisted, and a steering linkage shaft was missing 50% of its connecting bolts.  Consequently, the steering clutches failed to engage properly, causing both steering clutches to disengage and allowed the shovel to freewheel down the grade resulting in the fatality.


The Black Thunder Mine is located 12 miles southeast of Wright, Wyoming on highway 450.  The mine produced approximately 93 million tons of coal in 2012 and employs 1,573 miners.  Miners work a 12 hour rotating shift schedule, two shifts per day,  and seven days a week.  Black Thunder Mine is operated by the Thunder Basin Coal Company LLC, a subsidiary of Arch Coal, Inc. Prior to the accident, the last regular (E01) inspection conducted by the Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) was completed on June 4, 2013.  No inspection event was open at the time of the accident.  The non-fatal days lost (NFDL) injury incidence rate for the mine in 2012 was 0.48, compared to the National NFDL rate of 1.00 for surface mines for the same period of time. Principal officials for the mine at the time of the accident were: Keith R. Williams………………… President and General Manager, Thunder Basin Coal Co. Kevin Hampleman………………. Mine Manager, Black Thunder Mine Tim W. McCreary………………… Safety Manager, Thunder Basin Coal Co. Les Riehemann………………… Step-up Supervisor, Black Thunder Mine


At 7:00 p.m. on Thursday, August 15, 2013, Jacob Dowdy, A-Crew Utility Miner, was assigned to perform various duties including cleaning and/or assisting in moving any electric shovels that were in need of those services.  The operation of shovel No. 3 was assigned to Anthony Gregory.  Gregory was told to finish loading coal out of the pit and then notify Les Riehemann, Step-up Supervisor, when he was finished.  Riehemann would then assign utility miners to assist in the moving of shovel No. 3.  After the coal loading was completed, Mike Lewis, Les Watt and John Shoun, Utility Miners, were assigned to help with the shovel move. The shovel was trammed six-tenths of a mile before starting up the north ramp.  Lewis called Riehemann for more help with moving shovel No. 3.  Riehemann was attempting to locate a utility miner to assist when Dowdy called over the radio that he was available to assist them.  Riehemann dispatched Dowdy to 4 West coal pit At 11:30 p.m., bulldozer operator Pat Wilder was dispatched to the 4 West Coal pit to assist the shovel in climbing up the ramp.  Wilder trammed the bulldozer down to the bottom of the ramp.  Wilder pushed a berm out to make the roadway wider and then waited for the shovel to get to the bottom of the final ramp.  The direction of travel for the shovel needed to be adjusted, so it was turned to the right and started up the final ramp.  The shovel travelled uphill without incident for another 50 yards and another turn was made to adjust direction.  Wilder assisted the shovel in turning by placing the bulldozer blade on the left side track to help hold the track in place while the steering clutches were disengaged and the left brake was set. After the second steering adjustment, the shovel continued uphill on the ramp.  During this time, the utility workers were positioned as follows; Shoun and Watt were in front of the shovel and Lewis and Dowdy were behind the shovel dropping cable loops from the utility pick-ups used to drag the shovel’s trailing cable.  The utility crew had dropped two loops off the truck.  Lewis’s truck couldn’t pull the cable up the hill so Dowdy attached his truck to Lewis’s truck with a sling.  The two trucks were facing uphill and were on the right side of the ramp, slightly behind the right side of the shovel. The shovel continued uphill.  All functions of the shovel appeared to be functioning normally to all persons involved until 12:35 a.m.  At that moment, the shovel stopped propelling and started freewheeling downhill.  Gregory was operating the shovel while Wilder was operating the bulldozer at the left rear of the shovel.  The bulldozer was at about a quarter throttle and the blade was in contact with the counterweights of the shovel.  Dowdy was in the first utility pick-up truck, and Lewis was in the second pick-up truck.  Both trucks were positioned on the right side of the ramp with Dowdy’s truck about 70 yards downhill from the shovel. Gregory immediately tried to engage the “propel” function with the joystick controls to stop the shovel.  Shoun and Watt, who were in front of the shovel, heard a loud bang or pop and the shovel started rolling downhill. Wilder felt the shovel start to move backwards and tried to throttle up and apply pressure to stop the shovel.  After the shovel started to move downhill, it pushed the bulldozer out and to the left of the shovel tearing off the lube station guard on the left track undercarriage of the shovel.  Gregory, after getting no response from the control sticks, dropped the bucket to the ground and started to apply stop buttons.  Lewis reported hearing shouts coming over the radio to “look out” as he saw the shovel move the bulldozer and then start moving downhill towards his location.  Lewis placed his truck in reverse and turned the wheel to the left and applied the accelerator. The shovel’s right track contacted Dowdy’s truck, crushing the truck.  The shovel then contacted Lewis’s truck impaling the truck on the “stinger,” just behind the left front wheel of the truck (see Appendix A photograph 2).  The stinger is a protective support where the trailing cable is attached to the shovel.  Lewis was pinned inside his truck by the dash where he remained until he was extricated and taken to the local hospital.  Dowdy received fatal injuries after the shovel crushed his truck. After the shovel stopped moving, Wilder called a mayday and dismounted the bulldozer. Watt came to Wilder’s aid as he was in shock.  Shoun started downhill and stopped to check on Dowdy.  It was apparent that Dowdy was deceased and he continued downhill to check on Lewis.  Gregory dismounted the shovel and was the first to reach Lewis.  After contacting Lewis, Gregory broke the passenger side window and noticed Lewis’s legs were pinned underneath the dash of the truck. Riehemann heard the mayday call and came to the area followed by utility miner Scott Hayden.  Hayden used the bulldozer to push a berm behind the right side track to ensure the shovel could not move.  The Mine Emergency Rescue Team arrived and Campbell County Emergency Management was also notified and dispatched to the accident site.  The Campbell County Fire Department completed the extrication of Lewis first, and then Dowdy.  The county ambulance service transported Lewis to Campbell County Memorial Hospital in Gillette, Wyoming for treatment.  Dowdy’s body was received by Tom Eekhoff, Campbell County Coroner.  Gregory, Shoun, Watt, and Wilder did not receive injuries during this accident.


The accident occurred because the mine operator failed to correct known, unsafe shovel tram procedures and maintain the shovel in safe operating condition.  The victim was positioned behind the shovel when the shovel was ascending a steep grade that averaged almost the maximum recommended grade for this model of electric shovel.  The left side steering pin was twisted and the steering interlock pipe was missing 50 per cent of its bolts.  The right and left side shifter levers along with the right side shifter yoke showed excessive wearing and the right side spring cylinder rod was bent.  The damaged/worn parts prevented the machine from functioning safely by allowing the steering/drive mechanism to disengage from both clutches.  Once the clutches were disengaged, the machine freewheeled down the ramp crushing the victim’s truck resulting in the victim’s fatal injuries, and trapping another miner in a second truck.

*** The Wyoming Business Report published a story April 25 that provides a good synopsis of the MSHA report. It includes a photograph of the carnage. The Gillette News-Record published a good story April 25, but it is not accessible online without a subscription. The Casper Star-Tribune underplayed the story when it published a very short notice Saturday, April 26. Dowdy will be among Wyoming workers who have died on the job who will remembered Monday, April 28, as the Equality State Policy Center and its allies commemorate Workers Memorial Day in the Capitol rotunda in Cheyenne.  

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