The failure of the brakes to stop a mining machine on a steep grade was rightly designated as an imminent danger, but there was insufficient evidence to classify the resulting citation as reasonably likely to lead to injury, a judge has ruled.

In May 2013, an inspector directed the driver of a scraper at Knife River Construction’s Vernalis Plant in California to conduct a brake test of the equipment on a grade.  The brakes failed to stop the vehicle on the 12%-14% slope, leading the inspector to issue an imminent danger order.  He also issued a citation for violation of a standard that requires brakes on mobile equipment to stop and hold the vehicle on the steepest grade in the mine.  The order carried no monetary penalty, but the citation was assessed at $1,140.

Administrative Law Judge Richard Manning upheld the order, saying the inspector’s belief was reasonable that the condition represented an imminent danger.  He also upheld the citation.  However, he found reasons for not agreeing with the inspector’s classification of it as significant and substantial (S&S).  Alleged violations are written as S&S when the inspector believes the hazard created by the alleged violation is reasonably likely to lead to serious injury.

Manning noted the machine traveled at only two to three miles per hour, a speed that could be controlled by the vehicle’s engine retarder.  Although the brakes could not stop the scraper on the grade, they quickly stopped it when the vehicle reached the bottom.  There was no vehicular or pedestrian traffic in the vicinity. Further, the judge credited the driver’s statement that he does not usually use the brakes on the grade and would have stopped the vehicle if he had thought it was dangerous to operate.

In a decision released August 7, Manning deleted the S&S classification and cut the fine to $900.