The operator of an underground coal mine near Rangely has been cited for a safety violation in connection with the death of a worker last August when equipment he was working on fell on him.

Blue Mountain Energy received the citation last week as the federal Mine Safety and Health Administration also released the final investigation report on the death of Jason Stevens, 32, of Vernal, Utah, at the Deserado Mine.

According to the report, the accident occurred as the mine was in the beginning stages of a major overhaul of its preparation plant, which receives coal by conveyor belt from the mine before it is shipped to the Bonanza Power Plant outside Vernal.

Stevens was working alone on an afternoon/evening shift Aug. 2, using a plasma cutter to dismantle a metal, roughly 1,400-pound water box that supplied water and coal slurry to a coal filter system, when the box fell on him from a height of about 29 inches as he worked beneath it, the report says.

He was last seen alive by a coworker when he went to get a drink of water between 9:30 and 10 p.m., and his lifeless body was found at 1:20 a.m. when the coworker came to tell him his shift had ended. He was pronounced dead two hours later by the Rio Blanco County Coroner's Office.

The report said Stevens had made cuts along a trough beneath the filter housing to allow the water box to separate, and left inch-wide strips of metal on both ends "in an apparent attempt to hold the water box in place as it was being dismantled." After he made a cut to separate the box from a filter tub on one side, that side was supported by just one metal strip that tapered down from an inch wide to three-quarters of an inch wide.

"The accident occurred when the water box shifted and fell on top of Stevens," the report said.

It said of the accident's root cause, "Mine management did not ensure that machinery or materials being worked on were securely blocked against motion prior to work being performed."

The associated violation the mine was cited for was deemed by MSHA to be significant and substantial, which means the violation contributed to a safety hazard likely to result in a serious injury.

No penalty has been assessed against Blue Mountain Energy yet for the violation, MSHA's website says.

The report says the mine, which employs 159 workers, had gone 504 days without a lost-time accident prior to the fatality.

It says that because Stevens was an experienced miner, the mine management let him decide how he would dismantle the filter and structure and he worked alone. He had more than 12 years of mining experience and had worked for six years at Deserado.

The report said Stevens' training was up to date, and he had been trained in May on blocking equipment to prevent motion during repairs.

The report says that as a corrective action after the accident, "Mine management developed a plan for the remaining dismantling of the preparation plant trough and trained all employees to ensure safe completion of the project. Management will continue to review plans with miners to ensure blocking against motion of all material and equipment in future projects."

Blue Mountain Energy spokesperson Susan Cornia released a statement saying the company has reviewed the findings "related to the tragic incident last August that took the life of one of our valued employees."

"As noted in the MSHA findings, the Company 'has trained the work force and implemented a project management program to make the (construction) projects safer.' In the aftermath of this event, Blue Mountain also renewed the training of the entire workforce at the Mine in appropriate safety procedures, which MSHA also noted in its accident investigation.

"Once again, we express our deepest condolences to the family and friends of our fallen team member," the statement said.

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