April 17, 2018
The Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) issued its Report of Investigation regarding the 9th fatality of 2017 at the Argos Roberta Cement Plant in Calera, Ala. On Sept. 20, 2017, Zakery Schmidt, a 28-year old rope access technician was rappelling inside a 318-foot vertical duct tower when an object fell from above and struck him on the head. First responders extricated Schmidt from the duct and transported him to a hospital where he died of his injuries the following day.
Schmidt, an employee of Industrial Access, reported to work at 7:00 a.m. He travelled to the top of the 10-foot diameter duct and prepared to enter it at approximately 8:45 a.m. At approximately 11:25 a.m., Mike Rachels, plant operator with Argos, and Tony Wellington, employee of Industrial Access, heard a loud noise and saw dust rising through the duct. They tried to contact Schmidt with a handheld radio, but did not receive a response. Wellington notified supervisor Chris Ledbetter, the Project Manager for Industrial Access, who walked to the bottom of the downcomer duct sludge bin portal and attempted to contact Schmidt over the radio. Wellington then entered the duct and rappelled down to Schmidt’s location. He located the unconscious Schmidt approximately 31 feet from the bottom of the duct hanging from his rope. He then hooked Schmidt to his rope and lowered Schmidt and himself to the bottom of the duct.
The Petzl Vertex Best helmet Schmidt was wearing sustained damage during the accident, indicating material struck the helmet with significant overhead force. Schmidt regained consciousness and complained of a leg injury. Ledbetter saw Schmidt’s bloody dust mask and 911 was called.
Paramedics arrived at 11:41 a.m. and transported Schmidt to a hospital in Birmingham. In addition to a broken left femur, Schmidt suffered a broken femur, as well as skull and brain injuries which required emergency surgery. They were unable to stabilize Schmidt, who succumbed to his brain injuries and died on Sept. 21. Hospital personnel determined the cause of death to be multiple blunt force injuries.
MSHA’s accident investigation team, with assistance from mine management and the contractor, conducted a physical inspection of the accident scene, interviewed employees, reviewed training documentation, and examined work procedures relevant to the accident. There were no eyewitnesses to the accident.
Investigators conducted a root cause analysis and identified the following root causes:
Corrective Action: The mine operator revised its procedures for working in a confined space and retrained all its employees in the revised procedures. The contractor used the operator’s procedures and retrained its employees.
Corrective Action: The contractor company introduced comprehensive workplace examination policies related to identifying hazardous conditions and provided training to the miners.