MSHA issues Report of Investigation following rope technician fatality 

The Mine Safety and Health Administration has issued a Report of Investigation following the death of an Industrial Access (IA) rope technician at ArgosRoberta Cement plant in Alabama, on 20 September 2017. Zakery Schmidt was rappelling inside a 318-foot vertical duct tower, which he entered at 8:45am, when an object fell and struck him on the head. He was freed and transported to UAB Hospital in Birmingham where he died the following day.

MSHA found that the accident occurred because the mine operator and the contractor company did not provide oversight to ensure all parties utilised safe work procedures for inspecting and working the duct. The contractor also did not conduct out sufficient workplace examinations to identify hazards.

Schmidt used a Petzl I’D self-braking descender/belay device to rappel down the duct and a REED, TM-8811 Ultrasonic Thickness Gauge to make thickness measurements of the duct wall starting at approximately 118 feet from the top of the 318-foot high duct.

Plant operator Mike Rachels and IA employee Tony Wellington heard a loud noise and saw dust rising through the duct at approximately 11:25am. Wellington and Rachels tried to contact Schmidt with a handheld radio but did not receive a response.  Wellington notified supervisor, Chris Ledbetter, project manager for IA. Rachels notified his supervisor, Doug Fredericks, the Argos Maintenance Inspector.

Ledbetter walked to the bottom of the duct sludge bin portal and attempted to contact Schmidt over radio. He then banged on the duct wall, called his name, and used a torch to try and obtain a response. He then contacted Wellington and instructed him to go into the duct to rescue Schmidt.

Wellington went into the duct and rappelled down to Schmidt’s location, where he was unconscious at approximately 31 feet from the bottom of the duct hanging from his rope. Wellington hooked Schmidt to his rope and lowered him to the bottom.

Schmidt was removed from the duct through the opening of the sludge bin hopper by Ledbetter and Eric Jones, an Argos first responder team member. Schmidt was wearing a Petzl Vertex Best helmet, which was damaged during the accident. After regaining consciousness, Schmidt confirmed he had received a leg injury. Ledbetter called 911 after noticing Schmidt’s bloody dust mask.

Paramedics arrived at 11:41am and transported the victim to the hospital. Schmidt received a broken left femur as well as skull and brain injuries, which led to surgeons carrying out an emergency operation. They were unable to stabilise the victim, who succumb to the brain injuries the following day. Hospital personnel determined the cause of death to be multiple blunt force injuries.

The MSHA accident investigation team carried out a physical inspection of the accident scene, interviewed employees, reviewed documentation and examined work procedures relevant to the accident. The investigation was also carried out with the assistance of mine management and contractor personnel.

More information is available here.


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