Nevada mine cited for major safety violation in worker death

MSHA determined that the rearview camera required on the back of the truck had not worked properly for years
Published: Feb. 10, 2023 at 2:25 PM PST
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RENO, Nev. (AP) - Federal investigators cited a Nevada gold mine for safety violations in the death of an underground worker, including inadequate inspections and a defective rearview camera on the truck she backed into a deep hole before crashing to the mine floor.

The Mine Safety and Health Administration ordered three corrective actions and cited Nevada Gold Mines for one major safety violation in the February 2022 death of Marissa Hill, 34, at the Cortez District underground mine in Eureka County.

The formal citation could carry a subsequent fine. It was directed at the most egregious violation — failure to erect required signage and a protective berm in front of the shaft opening Hill’s lube truck with a restricted rear view tumbled into, landing upside down 60 feet (18 meters) below.

“This obvious unsafe condition existed for approximately two months and management traveled through the area daily looking for defects,” MSHA said.

“The mine operator engaged in aggravated conduct constituting more than ordinary negligence by being aware of the unsafe condition and not promptly initiating appropriate action to correct it,” it said.

MSHA determined that the rearview camera required on the back of the truck had not worked properly for years. It was difficult to maintain because vibration would dislodge the wiring in the wet, muddy conditions around the mine, so “miners had stopped reporting the defect for over two years,” the report said.

The Elko Daily Free Press first reported MSHA issued the final report on the fatality investigation Wednesday.

Nevada Gold Mines said MSHA’s fatality report serves as a “stark reminder that nothing is more important than the health, safety, and wellbeing of our employees and business partners.”

“We mourn the loss of our colleague, Marissa Hill, and we are dedicated to our fatality prevention commitments within our operations,” it said in a statement emailed to The Associated Press on Friday.

The investigation, which MSHA began the day after the Feb. 14, 2022, accident, determined the mine’s management and operator had decided two years before the accident “not to follow their own standard operating procedures” of installing protective berms and signs at access points to such openings, called “stopes.”

Gold-bearing ore drilled and blasted from the stopes are hauled to the surface and when production in the stope is complete, it is scheduled for backfill. Work had ended at that site on Jan. 5 and it was ready for backfill but sat unprotected, the report said.

The investigator determined inadequate workplace examinations, including no record of the adverse condition, contributed to the accident. The report said Safety Superintendent Nathan Dillion told Operations Superintendent Michael Gill that when he worked at the Cortez surface mine, MSHA had cited the mine for not recording the workplace examinations.

“Dillion also told Gill that he knew that the Cortez District-Underground mine would be cited soon because examinations had not been properly recorded,” the report said.

MSHA said that since the accident the company has taken several corrective actions, including installing berms and new signage at all open stopes and functional backup cameras on the remaining lube trucks.

“We remain focused on ensuring the personal safety of everybody in our workplace, as we work together on our Journey to Zero Harm,” Nevada Gold Mines said.

“Our thoughts and prayers are with Marissa’s family, friends, and coworkers. A tragic incident like this is felt by everyone within our community,” it said.