Lack of berm on elevated roadway let to fatal accident

A fatal accident developed when an operator of a loaded articulated haul truck went off a drop-off and overturned into the pit’s pond causing extensive injuries.  He was not wearing a seat belt at the time of the accident.

The victim, Michael Jay Nickels, age 44 died following the accident in March, last year.

On March 17, 2015, Michael Jay Nickels, haul truck driver was injured operating an articulated haul truck.

Nickels was operating on an elevated haul road that was on the embankment adjacent to the mine’s dredge pond when he drove off into the pond.  The rescue team extricated Nickels from the truck and administered CPR.  Nickels succumbed to his injuries and died on March 19, 2015.

The accident occurred because mine management failed to install a berm along the elevated roadway where a drop-off hazard existed and failed to conduct workplace examinations to identify and correct hazardous conditions.  Mine management also failed to ensure that the victim maintained control of the truck he was operating at all times and failed to ensure that the victim was wearing a seat belt.

The accident took place at  Ulrich Pit, a dredge sand and gravel mine, owned and operated by Ulrich Gravel Inc in Ord, Valley County, Nebraska.  

The principal operating officials are Wes Ulrich, Co-Owner/Co-President/Operator and Scott Ulrich, Co-Owner/Co-President.  The pit operates one 9-hour shift per day, five days per week.  At the time of the accident the mine had nine employees.

The pit operates two dredge barges with screens within the single pit’s pond.  A front-end loader loads the material into haul trucks to the customer.  The final product is sold for use in construction.

The Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) completed its last regular inspection of the mine on July 8, 2014.

On the day of the accident, at 3:45pm, Wes Ulrich was in a front-end loader working material at the east dredge tipple when he noticed a series of waves on the pond that were unusual.  Wes Ulrich then noticed that the haul truck had overturned in the pond adjacent to the pond’s embankment.  

Wes Ulrich immediately called Manchester and RD McKay, Barge Operator.  Wes Ulrich then contacted 911 emergency response teams (Valley County Ambulance, Valley County Sheriff Department, and Fire Department).  Martin Butts, Barge Operator, was traveling by the entrance of the pit and saw the activity.  Butts went to his pond boat and proceeded to the accident scene.

At 3:52pm., Emergency Medical Services were dispatched.

McKay and Butts approached the accident scene from the pond while Manchester approached the accident scene with his excavator from the embankment.  Manchester used the bucket and hydraulic boom to hook the cab and turn it up-right out of the water. Wes Ulrich had the cab of the haul truck secured to the excavator.
At 4:05pm, Ken White, Deputy Sheriff,  Gerome Dolan, EMT Technician for the Fire Department, and Tyler Herrold, Deputy Sheriff, joined McKay and Butts in the pond boats and stabilized the truck with the boats to retrieve Nickels.  Nickels was found upside down in the cab of the haul truck.  Dolan extricated Nickels by breaking the left door window and retrieving him through the window.  Dolan proceeded to administer CPR to Nickels.  Nickels was transferred to the ambulance crew where additional medical attention was administered.

At 4:17pm, Nickels was transported by ambulance to Valley County Health System in Ord, Nebraska, arriving at 4:26pm.  At 7:07pm, Nickels was transferred via life flight to Good Samaritan Hospital in Kearney, Nebraska.  On March 18, 2015, Nickels was transferred via life flight to Nebraska Medical Center in Omaha, Nebraska.

Nickels died on March 19, 2015 at 10:52pm.  The cause of death was attributed to drowning.

Lynn Bundy, Office Administrator, notified MSHA of the accident at 4:03 p.m. on March 17, 2015, by telephone call, to the Department of Labor’s National Contact Center (DOLNCC).  The DOLNCC notified Shannon Burns, District Secretary, who notified Pete Del Duca, Staff Assistant, and an investigation started that same day.

An order was issued under the provisions of Section 103(j) of the Mine Act to ensure the safety of the miners.  This order was later modified to an order under Section 103(k) of the Mine Act when the first Authorized Representative arrived at the mine.

MSHA’s accident investigation team traveled to the mine site, made a physical inspection of the accident scene, interviewed miners and reviewed conditions and work procedures relevant to the accident.  MSHA conducted the investigation with the assistance of mine management and miners.

The investigators conducted a root cause analysis of this accident and the following root causes were identified and the corresponding corrective actions implemented to prevent a recurrence of the accident:

Root Cause: Management failed to install a berm along an elevated roadway where a drop-off hazard existed for heavy mobile equipment travel.Corrective Action:  Management constructed adequate berms where the roadway hazardous drop-off existed.

Root Cause: Management failed to complete a workplace exam to identify and correct hazardous conditions in the working area.Corrective Action:  Management will develop a thorough training procedure on complete workplace examinations under variable workplace conditions.

Root Cause: Management failed to ensure that the equipment operator maintained control of the haul truck at all times.

Corrective Action:  Management shall develop a task training process that will monitor newly trained equipment operators when new to the operation.

Root Cause: Management failed to ensure that the equipment operator wore his seat belt when operating the haul truck.

Corrective Action:  Management retrained employees on the requirement of wearing seat belts while operating equipment.  Management will monitor truck drivers to ensure seat belts are worn.

The accident occurred when mine management failed to construct adequate berms along the elevated roadway when a drop-off hazard exists.  Mine management also failed to complete a workplace exam to recognize safety hazards in the working area.   In addition, mine management failed to ensure that the equipment operator maintained control at all times and that the equipment operator wore his seat belt. 

Mine Safety and Health Administration

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