Wendling Quarries is facing nearly $9,000 in fines after federal inspectors found staff at the mine in Garrison were negligent in failing in inspect a walkway from which a worker fell in January and died after being trapped in a rock bin.
Michael L. Griffith, 30, of Vinton, had worked at the mine for just two weeks before he was killed Jan. 8, according to the final report by the Mine Safety and Health Administration, part of the U.S. Department of Labor.
“The accident occurred because the mine operator did not: (1) provide a suitable walkway at the rim of the lime surge hopper; (2) ensure that the walkway at the rim of the lime surge hopper was examined by a competent person for conditions that may adversely affect safety before work was performed from the walkway; and (3) have polices/procedures on task training employees on safety hazards encountered when walking and working on walkways around hoppers,” the report states.
On Jan. 8, Griffith was using a dump truck to move crushed limestone from the mine to a stockpile, the report states.
One of his duties was to climb an elevated walkway to check the condition of the fine-particle lime inside a hopper coming up a conveyor belt. When needed, Griffith would use a metal scraper to remove limestone clinging to the interior wall of the hopper, the report states.
At about 1 p.m. Jan. 8, another mine worker noticed the hopper’s conveyor belt was slipping. Another employee went to investigate and found Griffith in the discharge opening of the lime surge hopper. They called 911, but responders pronounced Griffith dead at around 2 p.m.
“No one witnessed the accident, however, based on the evidence, investigators believe Griffith was scraping caked material from an interior wall of the hopper at the time of the accident,” the report states.
Another truck driver told investigators he saw Griffith on the elevated walkway that morning. Investigators found the scraper tool in the hopper.
Although investigators don’t know exactly how Griffith fell from the walkway, they did discover a gate in the walkway was left open and it did not appear to have a pin that should have been used to secure the gate.
A plant supervisor told investigators he had not inspected the walkway that day, which is part of required daily examinations of the facility.
“Mine management engaged in aggravated conduct constituting more than ordinary negligence in that the plant supervisor, who does the workplace examinations, did not inspect the lime surge hopper walkway on the day of the accident prior to the time that miners accessed the area,” the report states. “This is an unwarrantable failure to comply with a mandatory standard.”
Lastly, inspectors found Wendling had not provided Griffith, who had been with the company for eight months, training for working safely around bins and hoppers.
Online records show Wendling is contesting fines connected to Griffith’s death. A company representative declined to comment on the report Wednesday, saying Wendling still is in discussions with the federal agency and the Griffith family.
Wendling Quarries, founded in 1958, operates about 100 quarries in Eastern Iowa and western Illinois and employs about 200 people to produce crushed stone, sand, gravel and asphalt mix. John Kulper, the company’s safety director, told The Gazette in January Griffith’s death was the first in the company’s history.
Griffith, a 2008 graduate of Waukon High School, was married and expecting his first daughter last May, according to his obituary.
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