Update: Coeur disagrees with MSHA report on Kensington fatal

Kensington Mine owner Coeur Alaska is contesting a report by the Mine Safety and Health Administration that says management policies, procedures, and controls were inadequate at the time Joseph Tagaban was killed last September.

The MSHA investigation began at the mine almost immediately after the September 7, 2011 incident, which was the first fatality at the gold mine 45 miles northwest of Juneau. The Kensington had been in production about 13 months when the accident happened.

The four inspectors involved in the investigation issued their report Wednesday.

It indicates the area had not been adequately examined before setting off a blast and a diamond drill hole intersecting the blast site had not been properly identified. Tagaban was killed when he was struck by rock and flying debris that shot through the three-inch hole.

According to the report, Tagaban was standing in line with the drill hole and about 200 feet away from the blast site, at the 1,290-foot level underground.

Coeur Alaska community relations manager Jan Trigg says nothing is more important than worker safety. But she says the company disagrees with the report’s conclusions.

“Coeur had blasting and workplace examination policies and procedures in place at the time of the incident that were in full compliance with MSHA regulations,” Trigg says. “And an examination to check the area for hazards or to identify the diamond drill hole was conducted prior to initiating the blast.”

The 30-year-old Tagaban was a blaster’s helper. The MSHA investigation indicates that the mineworker initiating the blast and Tagaban had not been provided a safe area away from flying material or gases.

Trigg says the company has identified a shelter to protect the crew working in areas where blasting is scheduled. She says Coeur also has increased workplace examination training.

Tagaban, of Juneau, had worked for the company for about a year and a half at the time of the fatal accident. The investigators’ review indicates that training records were up to date, but training did not specifically address all the hazards associated with blasting.

The federal mining agency says Coeur Alaska can request a conference to discuss disagreements with the investigation’s findings.

So far, no monetary sanctions have been assessed against the company. MSHA spokeswoman Amy Louviere says a separate division within MSHA will determine the penalty. She says several factors are considered, including the seriousness of the violation, any history of previous violations, and efforts to promptly correct the violation.