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Surface Nonmetal Mine

Fatal Other (Drowning) Accident

October 22, 2001

Russell Sand Mine
WPR, Inc.
Milton, Santa Rosa County, Florida
Mine I.D. No. 08-01304

Accident Investigators

Mitchell Adams
Supervisory Mine Safety and Health Inspector

Michael C. Henley
Mine Safety and Health Inspector

Stephen B. Cole
Mechanical Engineer

Dale Ingold
General Engineer

Terry Phillips
Mine Safety and Health Specialist

Originating Office
Mine Safety and Health Administration
Southeast District
135 Gemini Circle, Suite 212; Birmingham, AL 35209
Martin Rosta, District Manager


On October 22, 2001, Earnest J. Holley, dredge operator, age 44, drowned when he fell from the dredge into approximately 21 feet of water. The accident occurred because a life jacket was not worn by Holley when he was positioned near the edge of the work deck on the stern of the dredge.

Holley had a total of 2-1/2 months mining experience, all with this company, at this mine. He had not received training in accordance with 30 CFR Part 46.


Russell Sand Mine, a sand dredging operation, owned and operated by WPR, Inc., was located off Briarglen Road in Milton, Santa Rosa County, Florida. The principal operating official was Douglas P. Russell, president. The mine operated on an intermittent basis with one eight hour shift per day, as required by demand. Total employment was 5 persons.

Sand was dredged and pumped from the pit to the processing plant where the material was screened, sized and stockpiled. About a third of the product was used in a concrete batch plant located at the mine site. The rest of the product was sold for use as construction material.

MSHA became aware of this plant=s existence as a result of the fatal accident. This operation had not been inspected by MSHA prior to the fatality. A regular inspection was conducted following the investigation.


On the day of the accident, Ernest J. Holley (victim), reported for work at 5:30 a.m., his regular starting time. He was assigned labor duties in and around the shop doing miscellaneous clean up and repair work. At 9:20 a.m., Mike Miller, quarry foreman, re-assigned Holley to operate the dredge.

Miller took Holley to the dredge, located about 25 feet from shore, in a Jon boat. In preparation of starting the dredge, they greased the fittings and gears and adjusted the clutch. Miller assisted Holley in starting the dredge, then Miller took the boat back to shore.

At about 12:20 p.m., Miller noticed clear water coming through the suction pipe from the dredge and immediately went to the bank to check on the situation. Miller could not see Holley and ran to the plant and gave instructions to call 911.

Local emergency crews and the County Search and Rescue squad responded to the call. Rescue divers searched for the victim and recovered his body at 4:11 p.m. in approximately 20 feet of water near the stern of the dredge. The victim was pronounced dead at the scene by paramedics. An autopsy determined the cause of death to be asphyxiation secondary to drowning. Associated findings determined stenotic coronary artheroscloerosis.


MSHA's district office was notified of the accident at 9:19 a.m. on October 24, 2001, by a fax from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration office in Jacksonville, Florida. An investigation was started that day. An order was issued under the provisions of Section 103(k) of the Act to ensure the safety of miners. MSHA's accident investigators traveled to the mine, made a physical inspection of the accident scene, interviewed employees, and reviewed conditions and work procedures at the time of the accident. MSHA conducted the investigation with the assistance of mine management and the employees. The miners did not request nor have representation during the investigation.


  • The accident occurred on the dredge located about 25 feet from shore in a water-filled pit, which was 20 -25 feet deep and averaged 400 feet in diameter.

  • The water was too deep where the dredge was working to allow stabilizing spuds to reach the bottom. The dredge was being stabilized by lines that ran from the dredge to soldier blocks on shore.

  • The dredge involved in the accident was a Mud Cat, model no. MC-15, powered by a 6-cylinder Detroit diesel C-71RC engine, model 6030N. The dredge measured 33 feet from bow to stern, and 8 feet from port to starboard, and was equipped with an 8-inch suction pipe and discharge line. It is believed to have been built in approximately 1984. No mechanical malfunction was found with the dredge.

  • The overall operator's compartment on the dredge measured approximately 3 feet by 4 feet. Limited room inside the booth would make it very uncomfortable for the operator to wear a life jacket while operating the controls. Holley had been wearing a life jacket while working with Miller outside the operator's booth on the dredge.

  • The company had no written policy available requiring the use of life jackets. Employees confirmed that the company verbally instructed that they were required to wear life jackets while working around the water. A life jacket was hanging on the outside wall of the operator=s booth. A second life jacket was located in the Jon boat.

  • The deck of the dredge was provided with 42-inch handrails on the bow, and the port and starboard sides. There were no handrails installed on the stern.

  • There were no extraneous materials or slipping/tripping hazards observed on the deck.

  • Two-way radio communication provided on the dredge was operable.

  • Visibility or footing was not impaired by rain or other weather conditions.

  • Although there were no witnesses, it is the conclusion of the investigators that Holley left the operator's booth to tighten one of the stern stabilizing lines and failed to put on his life jacket. One of the lines used to secure the stern of the dredge was found untied and in the water.

    The cause of the accident was the failure to wear a life jacket while working where there was a danger of falling into the water. The size of the operator=s compartment, which made it uncomfortable to wear a life jacket while operating the dredge, may have been a factor.


    Order No. 6090259 was issued on October 24, 2001, under the provisions of Section 103(k) of the Mine Act:
    A fatal accident occurred at this operation on October 22, 2001, when the dredge operator fell from the dredge into the water and drowned. This order is to ensure the safety of all persons at this mine site. It prohibits the operation of the dredge until MSHA has determined that it is safe to resume normal operations in the area. The mine operator shall obtain prior approval from an authorized representative before operations can resume.
    This order was terminated on October 26, 2001. Conditions that contributed to the accident have been corrected and normal mining operations can resume.

    Citation No.6076227 was issued on October 26, 2001, under the provisions of 104(a) of the Mine Act for violation of 30 CFR 56.15020:
    A fatal accident occurred at this operation on October 22, 2001, when the dredge operator fell from the work deck into the water and drowned. The victim had been provided with a life jacket and had been instructed in the requirements for its use, but failed to wear the life jacket at the time of the accident.
    This citation was terminated on November 14, 2001. Life vests in serviceable condition are available to every employee working around water. Training was given concerning the mandatory use of the vest and the hazards associated with working around water.

    Related Fatal Alert Bulletin:
    Fatal Alert Bulletin Icon FAB01M25


    Persons Participating in the Investigation

    WPR, Inc.
    Douglas P. Russell ............... president
    Wayland Russell ............... vice president
    Michael Miller ............... foreman
    Mine Safety and Health Administration
    Mitchell Adams ............... supervisory mine safety and health inspector
    Michael C. Henley ............... mine safety and health inspector
    Stephen Cole ............... mechanical engineer
    Dale Ingold ............... industrial engineer
    Terry Phillips ............... mine safety and health specialist
    Persons Interviewed

    WPR, Inc.
    Douglas P. Russell ............... president
    Wayland Russell ............... vice president
    Michael Miller ............... foreman
    John R. Holley ............... loader operator