Mine Safety

September 26, 1947

Report Outline
Public Concern Over Recent Mine Disasters
Long-Run Progress in Reducing Mine Hazards
Slow Adoption of Protective Laws for Miners
Pressure for Federal Mine Safety Enforcement
Special Focus

Public Concern Over Recent Mine Disasters

The disastrous explosion at Centralia, Ill., Mar. 25, and four other mining accidents during 1947 which were classified by the federal Bureau of Mines as “major disasters,” have sharply reversed the long-term downward trend of coal-mine fatalities in the United States. Public sympathy for the miners and their families was undoubtedly a factor in the decision of the coal operators to accept terms highly favorable to the men in contracts signed with the United Mine Workers in July. In addition to higher wages and shorter hours, the contracts provided for continuation and enlargement of the operator-supported Health and Welfare Fund, and for voluntary enforcement of the Federal Mine Safety Code, which had been promulgated by Secretary of the Interior Krug while the bituminous mines were under government operation.

The Centralia and other disasters also gave rise to strong demands for federal enforcement of safety regulations in the mines. Such enforcement is normally a state responsibility. The Federal Mine Safety Code was legally enforceable only so long as the federal government operated the mines under the seizure powers of the War Labor Disputes Act, which expired on June 30, 1947. A joint resolution approved Aug. 4 continued the federal code in effect for one year, but made no provision for its enforcement by officers of the federal government.

Upturn in Coal Mine Fatalities During 1947

The Centralia disaster, which took 111 lives, was the worst in the coal fields since 1928 and one of the worst in American mining history. The four other “major disasters” were minor by comparison, but their cumulative toll was 59 lives. Fifteen miners were killed in a gas explosion at Plymouth, Pa., Jan. 15; 9 in another disaster at West Wyoming, Pa., Apr. 10; 8 in a disaster at Terre Haute, Ind., Apr. 30, and 27 in the most recent disaster, at West Frankfort, Ill., July 24.

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