Discipline, Skill and Care

Part of the summary from the official Inquiry Report for “Blantyre Colliery Explosion” of 1877. Transcribed by myself word for word for the first time appearing online, this particular detailed section near the end of the report summarises the discipline, skill and care within the mine. The favour of this extract is that men were responsible for what they were doing, conveniently hardly mentioning the colliery owners or managers.


“The discipline seems to have been of a mixed kind. The day firemen had to visit the working places and travelling roads before they signalled the miners down the shafts, and , in addition to that, each working place was visited twice, if not thrice, in the course of the day. Having seen the miners at their work, the practice was for the firemen to return to the shafts and come to the surface to breakfast and for the purpose of signing their daily report-books as to the state of the ventilation.

“The night firemen had usually a gang of men with them doing repairs. They had also to visit each place where colliers were working a second shift and enter the report in a book. This entry was made in the mornings when the shift was done, except that on Monday mornings, when the books, having been locked up over the Sunday were not at hand, the entry was made later in the day.

The oversman usually went down the shafts with the miners, and came up to a breakfast and to confer with the manager. Afterwards they and the firemen went down and remained till the afternoon. There was also, as before mentioned, the special fireman at the Stoopings.

The manager, as stated was down in at least one of the pits under his charge about four times a week. Some of the witnesses, however, say that they only saw him down once a week, others once a fortnight, and some not at all in five weeks, as may readily be understood seeing that there were four pits with widespread workings in three different beds of coal.

The report books of the firemen show that the mine was dealt with as having firedamp, but nearly all the printed forms were under General Rule 3 instead of Rule 2. This, it was explained, arose through a mistake of the printer, and was first noticed at the inquiry. The rule required a true report of the condition of the respective parts of the mine to be made, and it prohibits workmen from going in to work until the mine and the roadways leading thereto are stated to be safe. The entires showed merely whether in the opinion of the firemen there places were safe, and did not, except upon the occasions named, record the findings of gas, which apparently the rule requires should be done.

“An accident book was also kept recoding fatal and non fatal accidents. Entries as to the keeping out and withdrawals of work person were not on every occasion, as required by General Rule 6, recorded in the firemen’s books, or in another book kept for the purpose.

The abstract of the Act and the special rules were posted up at both of the pits in question. The Government inspector and his assistance had been frequently at the colliery and made no complaint, but suggested that the miners should avail themselves of their power to make inspection. No complaint was made by any of the miners to the manager except that the draft of air upon them was unpleasant. The bratticing although very long was apparently well attended to. Work generally seems to have been pushed on with vigour. On the other hand representatives of danger by the miners are said to have been sometimes rudely received by the oversman of No. 2. The air after ventilating No3 pit was used for the principal portion of No 2 instead of fresh air. Open lights were allowed in the return air beyond accumulated gas at the ‘Stoopings’.

“Gas (but not within the three months last past) is said to have been on one occasion not fenced off. Batting or wafting out gas, called ‘dighting’ disavowed by the manager was practised. Powder, required to be in a case or canister was allowed to be taken into the mine at times in paper parcels. Powder, where inflammable gas had been met with during the preceding three months was allowed to be taken in paper parcels or canisters, loose, instead of in the required cartridges. The special rules made each fireman the competent person to supervise the firing of shots where gas had been met with during the preceding three months, but the miners fired their own shots, except at the Stoopings, without supervision. Shots, disavowed by the manager as being unsafe near accumulated gas at the Stoopings, were fired with an open light by the special fireman.

The miners could scarcely have been expected to foresee that the whole system of the ventilation was breaking down. But some of them were participators in most of the acts of omissions and commissions enumerated. Indeed, some came forward to admit the firing of shots clandestinely. They also had powers under the Act of which they might have availed themselves. They might have made inspection of the mine on their own behalf under General Rule 30 and they might under Rule 31 have inspected and see and copied the reports the firemen were making as to the state of the ventilation. They might also have sent a confidential intimation to their district inspector, or if preferred to the Secretary of State. Like those over them, with the exception perhaps of one or two, they do not seem to have anticipated a general explosion, and some at all events of those who are said to have apprehended this danger remained at work in the pit.

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