Engulfment incident spurs MSHA safety alert on surge piles

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Photo: Photo: Mine Safety and Health Administration

Arlington, VA — Prompted by a recent incident in which a coal mine bulldozer operator working on a surge pile of coal was engulfed and trapped in the machine’s cab when the pile collapsed, the Mine Safety and Health Administration has issued a safety alert.

The operator was working near a load-out feeder location at the time the surge pile tumbled. MSHA contends the operator was uninjured because the bulldozer was equipped with high-strength glass that prevented coal from infiltrating the cab, as well as two self-contained self-rescuers, which supplied sufficient, breathable air during a two-hour rescue effort.

According to a 2019 Department of Labor video, surge pile incidents have claimed the lives of 19 miners since 1980. “In an accident, a bulldozer can suddenly fall into a hidden cavity, where the coal has bridged over an underground feeder,” the video says.

MSHA offers numerous best practices for mine operators and contractors to safely work on or near surge piles, including:

  • Prevent foot traffic on surge piles and provide adequate warning signs.
  • Provide adequate surge pile-related training to all workers, including specialization on alarm response, equipment needs, and rescue and recovery plans involving engulfed equipment.
  • Stock cabs with safety equipment, including self-contained self-rescuers, flashlights, cooling pads and drinking water.
  • Stay stable. Do not operate equipment directly over feeders, stay away from unstable drawhole edges and ensure bulldozers employ the “double blade” pushing method.
  • Use remote-controlled dozers on surge piles.
  • Be aware of surge pile conditions.