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'Management’s failure' noted in CONSOL miner's death

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William E. Mock, 61, died in September at the Blacksville No. 2 coal mine in Monongalia County, federal inspectors say, in part due to a failure of management to ensure safety of its employees.

Mock, a general inside laborer, was fatally injured when an 11-foot by 5-foot piece of mine roof fell onto him on Sept. 13, 2012. Mock and another employee, Doug Ice Jr., were removing a piece of the permanent roof supports when the accident occurred. The Mine Safety and Health Administration's fatal accident report concluded that failure to install additional support before the primary support was removed caused the accident.

The roof fell with just 30 minutes remaining in Mock's shift.

"The plank was cut approximately half-way when they determined it was taking weight from the mine roof. Mock stopped cutting the board," the report states. "A portion of a roof bolt supporting the board was exposed due to sloughing of roof material. Mock and Ice decided to cut the roof bolt with a track bonder. To avoid being exposed to a flash from the bonder, Ice turned his back. When the bolt was burned through, there was a loud ‘pop,' causing Ice to duck. When Ice turned back around, he saw Mock covered with a rock from the lower chest down."

Ice attempted to remove the rock but was unable to do so, according to the report.

"When assistance arrived at the accident site, Mock was checked for vital signs, but none were detected," the report states. " … The Mon County EMS Service transported Mock to the Waynesburg Hospital, where he was pronounced dead upon arrival."

CONSOL could not provide proof to MSHA that either Mock or Ice had received task training for removal of permanent roof support.

MSHA's report says management failed to assure that persons removing the roof were located in a safe position, failed to examine the roof conditions prior to removal and failed to provide task training instructing the miners in appropriate procedures for removing the roof supports.

"Management personnel were not present when the accident occurred," the report states. "No member of mine management was with Mock and Ice during the entire shift, including the removal of the load bearing support."

The mine had operated at a lower non-fatal days lost incidence rate than the national average, and an MSHA inspection of the mine had been completed June 28, 2012. Another inspection was ongoing when the accident occurred.

In its root cause analysis of the accident, MSHA determined that the "most basic causes of the accident" would have been correctable through "reasonable management controls." The report says CONSOL has since taken corrective actions to ensure policies and safety instructions related to the causes of the incident.

CONSOL received eight citations in relation to the investigation of the fatality.

In its 2012 Corporate Responsibility Report, CONSOL touted an overall improved safety record in its coal mines but noted a need for more progress.

"In 2012, we continued to demonstrate that responsible business practices can coexist with energy production to deliver the fuel that drives economic growth and supports our quality of life, and that is reflected in this year's report," said J. Brett Harvey, chairman and CEO of CONSOL Energy.

CONSOL's President Nick DeIuliis expressed a similar sentiment in remarks at the West Virginia Coal Symposium last month.

"Statistics are very positive," DeIuliis said. "The statistics are heading in the right direction, but of course, you know, that's not enough, because you can't be satisfied with just incremental improvements. … We still suffered tragic fatalities during those years."