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Mine Disasters in
the United States


Pittsburg-Buffalo Coal Company
Rachel and Agnes Mine Explosion

Marianna, Pennsylvania
November 28, 1908
No. Killed - 154



From the Google News Archives:  External Link
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From the State Inspector's report, 1908, pp. 5-19, 130-132.

The disaster occurred about 10:45 on Monday morning.  All employees in the mine were killed but one.

As the fan casing was destroyed and the top of the outlet shaft and headframe badly wrecked, it was several hours before ventilation could be partly restored.

By Wednesday morning all the bodies had been removed, except those covered by the debris and water.

The mine was badly wrecked, stoppings destroyed, timbers dislodged and roof fallen.

Ventilation was more than ample.  All stoppings and overcasts were of brick or concrete, and the workings were ventilated by six separate air splits with brattice cloth used to conduct air from the last open crosscut to the faces.

Explosive gas in generated in the mine which is worked generally with open lights.

Much fine dust was produced in cutting, blasting, and hauling.  A water system was used but was ineffective to thoroughly wet the dust.

A blown-out shot in the face of No. 3 Blanche entry was the initial point of the explosion, igniting dust and gas.  A secondary explosion occurred in the main dip entries where an accumulation of gas had been found and men removed shortly before the disaster.

A committee of experienced mining engineer made an investigation and report at the request of the chief mining inspector.  Their findings agreed with those of the State mine inspectors and included some conclusions and recommendations regarding the control of explosion hazards that were repeated hundreds of times in the next 30 or more years.

"We feel that it should be recognized that mines liberating gas and producing dust have to face the danger of ignition from three principal causes: open lights, blown-out shots, and electric sparks.  To reduce these dangers to a minimum, without forcing conditions that would sacrifice the value of property, should be the aim of our future laws.  We feel that the danger of open lights can be more easily eliminated than the other two, and we do not believe it is a hardship to enforce the use of improved safety lamps in any or all mines that have given off or are apt to give off explosive gas.

It is a recognized necessity that in mining the Pittsburgh coal, other means than hand-pick mining must be employed.  It can be blasted under proper regulations with a minimum amount of danger.  To do this we feel that it is necessary that competent shot firers be employed who shall have charge of, and be responsible not only for the firing of the shot, but for the quantity and quality of the explosives used.; that all holes be tamped with clay; that the shot firers use only permissible explosives as furnished by the company; that all shots be fired by an electric battery; and that blasting for the complete safety of the miners be done only between shifts, when men are out of the mine.

We recognize at the present time that one of the most dangerous conditions at any mine is the accumulation of dust.  To prepare and take care of it is a serious problem, and we cannot but recommend that the same care as used in the Marianna mine for distributing water for saturating the dust be employed in every mine under like conditions.  We also feel that it is not simply a question of the sprinkling of the dust, but it should be a saturation; that unless the coal dust is saturated, the sprinkling does not accomplish the purpose.  We also feel that in all mines where machines are used for undercutting the coal, the accumulations of fine coal and dust should be loaded out of the mine before shooting.

We recognize the present estimated commercial value of the use of electricity in mines, but we can only recommend its use in intake air currents, believing there is sufficient power otherwise attainable to do the necessary work as economically; and in eliminating electricity from all gaseous parts of the mine we remove as great a danger as the open light.

The miner should realize his importance as a factor in not only safeguarding his own life, but those of his fellow-employees by faithfully following rules and regulations prescribed, and his education should be first on these lines ; That the employer and employee working together for mutual protection under intelligent guidance will reduce liability to accident by explosion by removing the causes.

We realize that to follow out on these lines of our recommendations may mean increased costs of operating expenses, and hardships might result between competitive fields unless similar laws are enforced in all such fields."

The chief mine inspector gave thought to the recognized fact that disastrous explosions were occurring with alarming frequency in mines that were deemed to be models of safe planning and management.  His conclusions approached but did not stress the fact that both State and company officials neglected to train and supervise the practices of mines and coal loaders.

His summary declared:
"It is regretted that explosions of this kind cannot be entirely prevented, but while that is impossible they could be greatly reduced in number if all the persons concerned in mining would cooperate intelligently in their work. Personal responsibility enters largely into this matter, for it is known and has often been demonstrated that the oversight, neglect and carelessness of one person in a mine may cause the death of hundreds of others.

This uncertainty is always present, and often when we think a mine, such as the Marianna, is safe, someone becomes heedless of the rules and regardless of consequences, and as a result an explosion occurs.

Nor is it always the ignorant foreigner who is the culprit; frequently the most intelligent miner, overconfident regarding the safety of the mine, is the one to bring on disaster.  It is very evident, however, that it is the plain duty of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania to teach the foreign miners the language of the country and how to mine coal with safety to themselves and to others."
Source:
Historical Summary of Mine Disasters in the United States - Volume I



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