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MSHA News Release No. 99-0311
Mine Safety and Health Administration
Contact: Rodney Brown
Phone: (703) 235-1452

Released Thursday, March 11, 1999

MSHA Levies $200,000 Civil Penalty Against Arizona Mine Operator for 1998 Fatality

The federal Mine Safety and Health Administration fined an Arizona company $220,000 for violations that led to the death of an employee last September. Paulden Sand & Rock, operator of an open pit sand and gravel mining operation in Chino Valley, violated five mine safety regulations, MSHA charged.

Anton H. Bisjak, Jr., 55, died Sept. 18, 1998, when the front-end loader he was operating rolled off a 15-foot highwall at the company's Perkins Pit in Yavapai County. Bisjak was using the loader to feed stockpiled material into a hopper. As he was backing away from the hopper to retrieve another load, the loader rolled off the edge of the highwall.

"The violations involved here are two of the most basic, fundamental practices concerning safety at any mine – brakes and berms," said Davitt McAteer, assistant secretary of labor for mine safety and health. "The citations speak of a disregard for the basic protections we all need."

MSHA investigators determined that the accident was caused primarily by the mine operator's failure to maintain brakes on the front-end loader and failure to provide a berm along the edge of the pit – both requirements of MSHA regulations. The company was assessed the maximum penalty of $55,000 for three of the five violations, which were found to contribute directly to the accident.

Specifically, MSHA cited Paulden Sand & Rock for:

      – Failure of the company to provide service brakes on the front-end loader that could stop and hold the loader. Investigators found that both master cylinders on the brakes were inoperative; both front wheel cylinders were leaking brake fluid; the air pressure side of the brake system leaked; and the left rear wheel cylinder could not be bled. Investigators further determined that company officials knew for several months that the service brakes were inoperative yet directed that the loader be regularly used for production work at the mine site. In addition, the loader was being used after it had been cited as unsafe by state mine safety officials.

      – Failure of the company to maintain the parking brake on the loader so that it would be capable of holding the vehicle with its typical load weight on the maximum grade that it would travel. MSHA investigators found that the parking brake was defective in that it was out of adjustment and was not capable of holding the loader. Investigators determined that officials also knew of the inadequate parking brakes on the front-end loader prior to the accident. A civil penalty of $50,000 was assessed for this violation.

      – Failure to provide a berm or guardrail where a drop-off exists of sufficient grade or depth that it would cause a vehicle to overturn or endanger persons in the vehicle. According to investigators, a berm or guardrail had not been provided along the elevated outer edge of the pit which was located approximately 35 yards from the feed hopper where the loader was dumping.

      – Failure to conduct a pre-shift inspection of the front-end loader. Federal mining regulations require all self-propelled mobile equipment designated for use during a shift be inspected prior to use during that shift. In addition to the brake problems found on the loader, investigators also noted that the engine foot-pedal linkage was worn beyond acceptable limits, further making the loader unsafe for operation. An adequate pre-shift examination of the loader would have detected these mechanical problems prior to the fatal accident.

MSHA investigators determined these four violations constituted more than ordinary negligence and termed the violations an unwarrantable failure to comply with mandatory mine safety regulations.

The company was also cited for failure to notify MSHA of the commencement of mining operations over a five-year period, for which an additional penalty of $5,000 was assessed. Mining companies have the right to appeal all civil penalties assessed by MSHA for violation of mining regulations.

MSHA is required to take into account several factors when considering civil penalties for mine safety violations. These include the gravity of the violations, the degree of negligence involved, history of previous violations, size of the operation, the operator's good faith in correcting cited violations, and the effect of the penalty on the operator's ability to continue in business.

MSHA has responsibility for inspection of all U.S. mining operations and the authority to investigate all accidental mining deaths.