May 22, 2008 The Pump Handle 0Comment

For the third time in eight months, workers from the Getchell gold mine* near Winnemuca, NV have seen a co-worker killed on-the-job.  First was Mr. Curtis L. Johnson, 36, a roof-bolter, who was killed on August 28, 2007, when part of the mine collapsed on him.  Next was Mike Millican, 43, who was killed on January 26, 2008 when a haulage truck backed over him.  Then, Kenny Barbosa, 28, was killed on April 21, in another fall of ground.  Thanks to the Las Vegas Review-Journal’s Alan Maimon** for drawing my attention to these workers’ deaths.   Sadly, and as usual, all of them were preventable!  (Maimon’s full story here.)

The earlier fatality (August 2007) which involved a fall of ground resulted in two citations against the mine operator with a monetary fine of $5,080 for each one.  The conditions which contributed to Curtis Johnson’s death were considered abated on February 19, 2008 when:

“Management has established policies and procedures to ensure that ground support systems are designed and installed to control the ground in places where persons work or travel.”

“Revisions were made to the roof and ground control plan in effect at the mine, but these changes were not provided to the miners in any course of instruction.  Management has trained all miners to identify and support adverse ground conditions.” 

Less than 60 days after these hazards were considered abated, two MSHA inspectors begin an inspection at the mine, which employs about 50 people.  Total time spent on the inspection was 57 hours, and they completed it two days before the April 21 incident which took Mr. Barbosa’s life.  Only three hazardous conditions were cited, none of them involving ground control. 

Given the mine operator’s recent past history with dangerous ground conditions, I expect that the inspectors would have been paying very close attention to this potential hazard.  Their inspection notes should indicate how meticulously they examined the ground conditions, and whether the area in which Mr. Barbosa was killed was inspected by them.  More importantly, how deligently was mine management complying with their newly established “policies and procedures to ensure that ground support systems are designed and installed to control the ground in places where persons work or travel.”  It policies and procedures should have been fresh in their minds because just 60 days earlier, they signed off on them.

According to Maimon’s story, an MSHA spokesperson said:

“the agency plans a complete safety review of the mine, emphasizing ground control procedures.”

$*#@&!  Shouldn’t that have happened after the first workers died from dangerous ground conditions?


**Alan Maimon worked at the Louisville-Courier Journal from 2000 until early 2006 when the paper closed their “Eastern Kentucky bureau,” which I understand was run out of Maimon’s house in Hazard, Kentucky.  His coverage of miners’ health and safety issues exposed a variety of problems in the State’s enforcement program and led to important reforms in 2001-2002.  If his editors give him the flexibility, he’ll have plenty of material for investigative journalism just covering the extraction industry in Nevada. 

*The Getchell mine is operated by a contractor, Small Mine Development LLC, and owned 75% by  Barrick Gold Corp. and 25% by Newmont Mining Corp.  In 2007, Barrick Gold’s net income (profit) was $1.12 billion (here) while Newmont reported a net loss.


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