By Scott Sonner
RENO — Federal mine safety officials have cited an Idaho-based company for inadequate safety controls at a gold mine it operates in northeast Nevada where a worker was killed in an underground collapse in October.
The U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration released its final report Monday on the Oct. 25 fatality at Small Mine Development’s Lee Smith Mine near Elko.
“The accident occurred because mine management policies, procedures and controls were inadequate to ensure the establishment and maintenance of safe ground conditions where persons work or travel,” the agency said. “Management engaged in aggravated conduct constituting more than ordinary negligence in that they failed to implement an adequate quality control process.”
Jason Holman, 42, of Goshen, Utah, was loading explosives into drill holes to blast away rocks to access ore when the collapse occurred, burying him in an estimated 67 tons (61 metric tons) of cemented rock fill (CRF) designed to reinforce the underground tunnels about 50 miles (80 kilometers) north of Elko.
Holman had more than eight years of mining experience. Investigators concluded he had been trained properly.
The Elko Daily Free Press first reported the agency’s findings on Tuesday.
Small Mine Development General Manager Keith Jones in Battle Mountain said the Mine Safety and Health Administration failed to incorporate some of their responses into the final report. He said their practices were consistent with industry standards.
“We take the safety of our employees very seriously. Our goal is to ensure this never happens again,” he said in an email Tuesday to The Associated Press.
The final report said the cause of the accident centered on the handling of the rock fill, which is made of aggregate and slurry. Ideally, it remains on the surface for 30 minutes between mixing and delivery, the Mine Safety and Health Administration said. Investigators found the operator had stockpiled the material on the surface for up to two hours before loading it into trucks for delivery underground.
“CRF should always be laid in position soon after mixing to avoid setting and stiffening,” the report said.
Underground bulldozer operators are supposed to report any deficiencies in the fill, but the Mine Safety and Health Administration found inconsistencies in how inferior material was handled when reported.
“Mine management has revised policies, procedures and controls for producing the CRF and provided training on the policies, procedures, and controls for the employees,” the agency said.
Small Mine Development operates the mine for Toronto-based Jerritt Canyon Gold.
Jones said the mine received the accident citation within the past couple of weeks. He said it usually takes about six weeks after the citation is issued for a penalty to be assessed.
“We take exception with the root cause analysis and their conclusions,” Jones said. “The procedures at Smith at the time of the incident were very much industry standard.”
“Testing of cylinders in the area indicated acceptable CRF strengths. We have installed about 2.6 million tons (2.4 million metric tons) of CRF at this operation without incident,” he said.