RENO, Nev. – Two Nevadans were killed in a mining accident partly because someone wedged a broom handle against a reset button to bypass an alarm that would have shut down the system, federal safety investigators said.
The Mine Safety and Health Administration said Monday that managers of Barrick Goldstrike's Meikle Mine are responsible for the August 2010 accident in Carlin that killed Daniel Noel, 47, and Joel "Ethan" Schorr, 38.
The two Spring Creek men were struck by a pipe that gave way in a ventilation shaft because it was clogged with excessive waste rock material.
MSHA said the pipe overfilled because the broom handle kept the loading system from tripping off. The agency blames managers for failing to ensure the safe operation, inspection and maintenance of the mine.
"Management failed to ensure that the pipe, its support system, and electrical system were maintained in a safe condition to protect all persons who could be exposed to a hazard from any failure of the system," MSHA said in the new report issued Monday.
"Additionally, management failed to maintain the electrical sensors and alarm systems and ensure that these systems could not be by-passed. A broom handle was used to wedge the electrical control panel reset button so the aggregate delivery system would continue to operate and not trip out," the report said.
MSHA issued Toronto-based Barrick six safety violations as a result of the accident. MSHA terminated the last of the safety orders stemming from those violations on June 21 after Barrick constructed a new aggregate delivery system that eliminated the hazards, the agency said.
Amy Louviere, a spokeswoman for MSHA's parent Labor Department in Washington, said now that the investigative report is complete, MSHA officials will begin to consider what, if any, fines are warranted for each of the six safety violations.
Fines can range anywhere from $60 to $220,000 per violation, Louivere said. Once notified of an assessment, a company has 30 days to either pay it or contest it, she said.
Greg Lang, president of Barrick Gold of North America, said the findings "affirm Barrick's belief that every accident is preventable."
"While we have made great progress over many years at Barrick, this tragic accident reminds all of us that we have yet to achieve our goal of zero accidents and zero injuries," Lang said in a statement on Monday. He said the company will thoroughly review MSHA's report "to identify actions that need to be taken to prevent a similar accident at Meikle or any other Barrick mine."
"Nothing can compensate for the impact that the loss of Dan Noel and Ethan Schorr has had on their loved ones and everyone who knew them, and our thoughts and prayers remain with their families," he said.
The men were being lowered in the cage to inspect the pipe when the accident occurred about 2 a.m. on Aug. 12, 2010. Rescue crews found their bodies 32 hours later at an area about 1,300 feet below ground at the mine about 55 miles northwest of Elko and 275 miles northeast of Reno.
It marked the sixth and seventh fatalities at the mine since it opened in 1994.
One worker told investigators he had been asked to be on lookout on the day shift before the accident "because another employee had wedged a broom handle against the electrical control panel reset button and he wanted to be alerted if a supervisor was approaching," MSHA's report said.
MSHA investigators discovered a modified broom handle hidden near the instrument panel reset button.
"The end of the broom handle had been shaped with a notch of the correct size to allow it to be used to jam the panel reset button," the report said. "Investigators positioned the broom handle and found it to fit perfectly when wedged between an electrical junction box and the instrument panel reset button."