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Federal regulators cite Nevada Gold Mines in Cortez mine worker death last year

Daniel Rothberg
Daniel Rothberg

Federal mine regulators found Nevada Gold Mines “engaged in aggravated conduct constituting more than ordinary negligence” in violating safety standards after a months-long investigation into a worker’s death at its Cortez District underground operation last year. 

The U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration in a report issued this week cited the company for leaving hazards uncorrected and not following its own safety rules requiring the placement of berms at the edge of open holes, or stopes.

“According to interviews with mine management, the mine operator decided not to follow their own standard operating procedures of installing physical berms and warning signs in access points to open stopes to prevent mobile equipment from over-traveling the stope edge about two years prior to the accident,” regulators for the agency wrote in the final investigative report.

The federal findings echo a similar conclusion reached by state regulators who also investigated the death of Marissa Hill, a miner with a decade of experience. On the evening of Feb. 14, 2022, Hill, a maintenance technician and a member of the mine rescue team, drove a lube truck over the edge of an un-bermed stope, falling 60 feet. It was not until about three hours later that two miners noticed barrier chains had been breached and began looking for her, the report said.

The report chronicles four enforcement actions taken by regulators, including the initial order to stop work after the fatality occurred. The other three actions involve the violation of mine health and safety rules. 

The report found company management knowingly had failed for about two months to install berms or protective barriers in the area where the accident took place. The report found “an adequate examination of this working place would have noted this obvious condition that adversely affected the safety of the miners.” 

The report further found the lube truck’s backup camera had not been adequately maintained for years and contributed to the fatality. A lube truck provides such services as refueling and maintenance.

The report said Nevada Gold Mines took steps to correct the violations in the months following the incident, including installing berms at all stopes, increasing training on workplace examinations and fixing the backup cameras on two additional lube trucks.

In 2021, the year before the fatal accident, the Cortez Hills Underground had a lost time incident rate — a measure for determining safety at mine sites — of 0.29, below the national average of 1.31.

In a statement, the company described the report 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. Our thoughts and prayers are with Marissa’s family, friends, and coworkers. A tragic incident like this is felt by everyone within our community.”

The statement from Nevada Gold Mines added, “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 is the largest mining company in the state, operating large-scale gold mines across the I-80 corridor. Multinational mining companies Barrick and Newmont formed Nevada Gold Mines as a joint venture in 2019. The Nevada Independent and High Country News have been reporting on the fallout of the merger and its effect on the local economy. Through a tip line, workers have shared concerns about safety, workplace culture and harassment. 

Last month, Nevada Gold Mines reported another fatality at its Goldstrike mine. It involved a worker with about 20 years of mining experience. The incident occurred when two miners were using hand tools to remove a waterline, which broke apart. The other miner was injured.

Before Hill’s 2022 death, multiple employees at several levels of the company told The Nevada Independent and High Country News that the joint venture operated by Barrick appeared to emphasize production over workplace safety, driving away experienced workers.

Barrick CEO Mark Bristow pushed back in an interview last year, saying the company aimed to create “a culture where people feel comfortable about dealing with concerns openly.” He added that “if you're faced with an unsafe situation, you should have all the rights to not do the job.”

At the time, Bristow said he could not discuss the fatality because of the ongoing investigation.


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