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Women Killed in Mine Accidents

Rogers Group, Inc.
Bullitt County Stone Company Sliding Material Fatality

Shepherdsville, Bullitt County, Kentucky
July 17, 1996
No. Killed - 1

MSHA Final Investigation Report  PDF Format

Other Woman Killed in Mine Accidents

Description of Accident

On the day of the accident, Joyce C. Gerwitz, (victim), reported for work at 7:00 a.m., her regular starting time.  She was assigned to do routine maintenance and welding.  Shortly after the shift started, Charles (Eddie) Weber, pug mill operator, informed Thomas Jewell, quarry foreman, that a major spillage had occurred which filled the inside lower end of the reclaim tunnel and covered the tail section of the conveyor belt.  At about 9:30 a.m., Gerwitz and three other employees were instructed by Jewell to clean up the spillage.  The employees reportedly were directed to enter the tunnel and take the spilled material out of the entrance in buckets.

Because this was tedious and time consuming, Weber suggested to Jewell that it would be faster to wash the spillage from inside the tunnel to the outside rather than carry the material out in buckets.  Weber told Jewell that this had been done in the past when a spill occurred inside the tunnel.  Weber further told Jewell that in order to wash the material out, a cut would have to be made in the surge pile to expose the lower end of the tunnel so the material would have room to flow out of the tunnel.

Shortly before noon, Jewell instructed two front-end loader operators to remove the material covering the surge pile end of the tunnel.  While the area was being excavated, employees continued to carry material out to access the inside lower end of the tunnel to make the cut and wash out the spillage.

When Darin Matson, area production manager, and George Newlin, quarry superintendent, were making rounds, Weber informed them that the excavation was going well and that he could see the top of the tunnel.  Weber further told them that once the area was clear, he would get the Bobcat loader to clean up the material that would be washed out of the tunnel.  Matson and Newlin told Weber that he was not to use the Bobcat loader because the material would cover him if it sloughed.  They instructed Weber that after the excavation was completed all work was to be done from inside the tunnel so employees would not be exposed to the unstable material.

At about 4:45 p.m., Gerwitz and Timothy Smolenski, quality control, were working inside the tunnel when John Williams, maintenance leadman, arrived with a welding truck at the tunnel entrance.  Gerwitz, Smolenski, and Williams strung out cutting torch hoses into the tunnel in preparation to cut an opening at the rear of the tunnel.  A short time later, Weber arrived at the tunnel entrance and told them to remove the hoses because he wanted them to cut the opening in the tunnel from outside, which was reportedly contrary to instructions previously given to Weber by Matson and Newlin.

The hoses were placed back in the welding truck and Gerwitz and Weber drove around to the excavated area at the exposed end of the tunnel.  Williams left the site and Smolenski stayed to take a water hose inside the tunnel before walking around to where Weber and Gerwitz were.  Weber told Smolenski to go to the shop and bring back the Bobcat loader to be used to remove the washed out material, which again was not what Weber had been instructed by management to do.

Gerwitz walked about 50 feet into the excavated area toward the tunnel while Weber stayed about 15 feet behind her to watch for sloughing.  After Gerwitz began cutting, Weber suggested that they make a trial run to ensure that she could get away from the area in the event the material sloughed.  When Weber yelled, Gerwitz ran out of the excavated area.  This exercise was done twice before she returned to the exposed end of the tunnel to continue cutting.

A short time later Smolenski returned and parked the Bobcat and Weber instructed him to also act as a spotter.  Smolenski walked up and stood about 6 feet behind Weber.

Gerwitz had knelt down and began cutting when the right side of the bank sloughed.  Smolenski yelled for Gerwitz to get out, but she was unable to escape and was covered by an estimated 40 tons of material.  Weber was buried to his waist.  Smolenski attempted to uncover him with his hands, but realized that he could not get Weber out.  Smolenski ran to the area overlooking the shop and yelled to George Newlin, who immediately radioed for help.  A front-end loader was used to free Weber.  Approximately 30 minutes later, Gerwitz's body was recovered.  She was pronounced dead at the scene by the county coroner.  Cause of death was attributed to suffocation.

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