A Comparative History
Chapter 5: Mining disasters
In Tommy, an account of the lives of British soldiers in the First World War, Richard Holmes (2004, 95) quotes a contemporary report of an incident in which stretcher bearers, wading up to their knees in water, struggle to carry wounded men to safety. Holmes then reveals that his source does not describe a battle in Flanders or France but rather a mining disaster in Wales. As Tawney and Holmes both explain, there were similarities between the risks run by miners and soldiers, although the risks were greater for the latter, at least between 1914 and 1918. Coal mining has always been a very dangerous occupation. Miners were exposed to numerous hazards, including flooding, rock falls, explosions and asphyxiation, not to mention the long-term health effects of breathing in dust. Most miners who died underground did so in ones or twos, but the death toll occasionally ran into hundreds when there was an explosion. Few large-scale mining accidents have occurred in developed economies in recent decades. The Pike River disaster, which claimed the lives of 29 miners in New Zealand in 2010, was an exception to the rule (Young 2012). Yet accidents with numerous fatalities still happen regularly in developing countries such as China (Wright 2012) and Turkey. People and property in the vicinity of coal mines are also at risk from negative externalities including pollution, subsidence and the collapse of tips of waste material extracted from underground.
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