Kentucky coal death is nation’s 3rd fatal in new year

Dylan Lovan Associated Press

Louisville, Ky. — A coal miner in western Kentucky died after being pinned against a wall by a mobile digging machine in an underground mine, the first coal mining death in the state this year and the third nationally.

The death prompted a top U.S. mine safety official to call for increased enforcement and education efforts at the nation’s coal mines.

Nathan G. Phillips, 36, was operating a continuous miner machine at the Dotiki Mine in Webster County when he was killed Tuesday.

Federal mine safety officials issued a new rule last year that seeks to prevent similar accidents by requiring motion sensing equipment on continuous miners, which are digging machines commonly used at underground coal mines. The equipment, called a proximity detector, gives warning signals and even shuts the machine down when a worker wearing a sensor gets too close. It was not known if the machine Phillips was operating had a proximity detector. Some older machines are exempt from the rule until 2018.

The other deaths this year were in Pennsylvania and West Virginia.

Joe Main, head of the U.S. Labor Department’s Mine Safety and Health Administration, said Wednesday that the deaths were “troubling” after the industry set a record low of 11 coal-mining deaths in 2015. He said the agency will be ramping up enforcement and education efforts at mines, and sent out an alert to the industry.

“All miners deserve to work their shifts and return home at the end of the day, safe and healthy,” Main said.

Kentucky had just two mining-related deaths in 2015.

“I am greatly saddened to hear of the loss of this young man’s life,” Kentucky Energy and Environment Cabinet Secretary Charles Snavely said of Phillips in a news release. “The safety of all of our Kentucky miners is our top priority and even one accident or fatality is one too many.”

The western Kentucky mine is owned by Alliance Resource Partners, which operates several mines in the Illinois Coal Basin. An Alliance spokesman didn’t immediately return an email request for more information.

Main and other mine safety officials traveled to a southern Indiana mine owned by Alliance last year to announce the new rule and see a demonstration of the proximity detectors.

Federal officials said in a release at the time that Alliance had already installed proximity detectors on 82 of its continuous miners ahead of the rule.

About half of the nation’s 863 continuous mining machines had already been outfitted with the detectors last year, the mine safety agency said. About three dozen miners have been killed by getting pinned or crushed by continuous mining machines since 1984.