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THE HUNTLY DISASTER

REPORT OF COMMLSFION. CAUSE OF THE EXPLOSION. CRITICISMS AND SUGGESTIONS. The report of the Commission appointed to inquire into the explosion at Huntly presented their report to Parliament yesterday. After sotting forth the leading facts of the explosion, and the fact that it was conclusively established that a party of five or six'men was instructed by Deputy Smith on the previous evening to proceed on the morning of the disaster to section 5 in the old workings for the purpose of lifting and removing iron rails which, on the cessation of work, had been left lying in some of the disused bords, the report says • “ Considerable, doubt has been expressed as to the direction taken by the party who were proceeding to the place where the rails were lying, but after careful consideration of the facts and probabilities, we have no doubt they went by wav of the travelling road, and entered No. 6 bord of section 5 (old workings). This was the shortest and easiest way, and no special reason has been shown why they should have gone by the other. From the position in which Martin’s body was found ho would appear to have been the first man to pass through the door. This door was not secured by any lock or oilier protective fastening." FIRE DAMP IN No. 6 BORD. The report proceeds ; “ It would appear as if Martin passed through the door carrying a naked light in his hand, and when he had proceeded a short distance down the bord, probably as far as the cut through to No. 5. he encountered an inflammable mixture of air and fire-damp, and an explosion took place. This explosion served to disturb and put in motion the eon] dust on the floor and sets of the bord, which, being, as recent analysis has shown, of a, most highly inflammable nature, ignited with a, terrible explosion. and the liberated gases, sweeping through the bords and passages of the mine with enormous velocity, hurled to great distances, and in most eases destroyed, every obstacle in their path.” CAUSE OF THE EXPLOSION. In dealing with the cause of the explosion the Commission say: “The explosion was due beyond any reasonable doubt to the, emission of life-damp from the roof of No. 5 bord in No. 5 section—known as the old workings—where there is a ' fall' from the roof of several months’ standing. There is an extensive ‘fall’ in No. 6 fiord, which was first seen after the explosion, but that, in our opinion, <li<l not contribute the fire-damp which was encountered by Martin. Its occurrence is probably due, to the explosion. There is not sufficient evidence before us to enable us to say what quantity of gas was present in bords 4, 5, and 6 on the morning of the accident. All those who could have thrown light on the matter have unfortunately perished. It is a well-ascer-tained and accepted fact that a largo amount of an inflammable mixture of 'atmospheric air and fire-damp is not essential to the production of an explosion, but there is no doubt in Ibis instance that the fire-damp must have been escaping in considerable quantities to have impregnated the fire to an inflammable extent (5.6 percent.) at the distance from its source at which Martin met it. It is possible, as suggested, though not probable, that the presence of gas had not long commenced in No. 5, and had not reached No. 6 when Martin arrived there. Be that as it may, we are perfectly .satisfied that if proper inspection in the old working had been made, with a safety lamp prior to these men entering through the door, the presence of fire-damp in the air must certainly have been discovered, and, in that ease, without doubt, steps would hare b°en taken In render the air pure, and the calamity which we now deplore- would have been averted." —Danger of Dost Explosions.— The report goes on to sny .-—“ The important part played by coal dust in a coal mine explosion was again brought prominently under notice by the Hnntly disaster. According to the evidence, the quantity was not great compared with that found in some mines in Great Britain. It was, however, sufficiently abundant to compel the inspector of mines to call the attention of the manager to it. and to ask him to take steps to mitigate it by wearing the travelling road. Mr Bennie did this primarily nm of consideration for the men who had to use the travelling way, but he also realised its danger, and in two successive memoranda to the manager directed his attention to the matter. It is only fair to the inspector of mines and to the mine manager to s.jy that, though the danger of dust ex plosions in a coal mine was known and recognised. the extraordinarily inflammable nature of the dust in this mine was unsuspected till after the accident. An analysis by Professor Dixon, of the University of Manchester, and Dr Mac Eaurin (Dominion Analyst) first revealed its unusual potency in creating a disaster. In the opinion of your Commissioners some legislative prohibition should be made having for its object the prevention or mitigation of the danger arising from the presence ot dust in a, mine. Much evidence was submitted at the inquiry lelative to dust explosions in coal mines and their remedy, and the Commissioners wove fortunate in Having the opinion of so prominent an authority as Professor Dixon on tho subject.” —Cause of the Explosion.—

In regard to the question of the cause of tlie accident, the Commission say: " The accumulation of firedamp which caused the explosion occurred in holds 4. 5. and 6, owing to inadequate ventilation and inspection. Bords such as these, rising, as they do, from the southward to dead ends, favor the accumulation of firedamp, the air being stagnant, and there being no signs of stoppings or brattice in the vicinity having been used. The firedamp mixture was ignited by a miner’s naked acetylene lamp carried by John Martin, a contract trucker, while performing his duties in that part of the mine.” —What. Lights Were Used.—

"For the daily examination of the mine by firemen and deputies before work was commenced,” says the report, “ safety lamps were used. Miners and others used acetylene lamps and other naked lights. Stationary electric lights were installed at the shaft bottom, but at the time of the accident naked lights only were carried in the mine.” —Contravention of ]tales.—

Under Ihe heading of ventilation and lighting the report says : —" There is no evidence that firedamp was permitted to accumulate in the actual working places and travcdling roads to and from such working places in contravention of special rule 3, but with respect to the old workings we are satisfied that sufficient examination for gas was not made, and that gas was allowed to accumulate in dangerous quantities. In contravention of special rule 1, the manager did not see that the mine was properly ventilated in all parts, and did not see that the working of the mine was carried on with all reasonable provisions for the safety of the persons employed. In contravention of special rule 16, the door for ventilation and safety purposes connecting bord No. 6, in which the disaster occurred, with the working portion of No. 5 district, and v, hich was only used occasionally, was not locked, or even provided with a lock. In contravention of special rule 18, the old workings and return air courses of the mine, also bords 4, 5, and 6, No. 6 district, were, inadequately fenced, persons being therefore liable to inadvertently entef the same." —Use of Naked ights.—

The report goes on to say :—“ Notwithstanding repeated ignitions and explosions in Ralph’s and the adjoining extended colliery, any one of wdiich might have created a disaster, the manager continued to permit naked lights to be used, although, under special rule 14, it was his duty to direct the under viewer to see that locked safety lamps only were used and naked lighs excluded wheresoever ami whensoever danger from firedamp was apprehended,’'-

We consider that no regular or systematic examination for i.ms was made in the old wordings.. Hie means of escape were adequate. Tho tendency for gas accumulations In the high places and of spontaneously ignited' fires where coal awl debris become piled up is great, calling for special pare and attention. Special attention was given to the T-revontion of heating, but we think, on account of the presence of gas, more frequent inspections were necessary. —Responsibility of the Manager.—

The report- goes on to state: "In view of what luic been stated above, and of tho fact that tho Coal Alim's Act and the special rales thereunder have to some extent. been either neglected or disrg.i-rded by the manager (Mr Fletcher), it cannot ho said that tho mine was in all reflects well and safely manasr-d by him. If Mr Fletcher had performed his obvious duty in causing safety lamps only to be used in Ralph’s colliery the disaster would never have occurred. He had ample warning by previous explosions. A manager has not onlv to comply with the requirements of tho law, but ho has a duty to his fellow-men beyond mere statutory obligations. Had the Mines Department known of these cases at tho time, no doubt legal provision would have been made for the inspector of mines to enfo’cc the use of safety lamps, by which the disaster would have been averted." —Methods of Inspection.— The report says; " With regard to the efficiency of the inspection of the minebv the inspector of mines for the district, your commissioners find that the pu«ni occupant of the position (Mr K. Boyd Bennie) has boon assiduous and conscientious : u the discharge of his duties, and has shown himself to be a. capable and painstaking officer ; but we consider that on occasions he has been satisfied with less than a prompt and strict compliance with the orders given by him to the manager with respect to matters relating to the working and safety of the mine.” •—An Error of Judgment.— The report, proceeds; "With regard to the occasional discoveries of gas in different places in the mine it appears to us that the inspector doc- not seem to have realised to its full extent the gravity of the situation as disclosed by the presence from time to time of this gas. In our opinion, after the explosion by which Kelly was injured, the use of safety lamp? should have been instantly urged upon the manager. The inspector quite honc.stlv considered that the. gas occurring in the mine could be, kept harmless by careful inspection rind proper ventilation, and that no risk was run of any ignition or explosion by continuing the use of inked lights. Thar he w;u. guilty of an error of judgment is too abundantly proved by the terrible accident which resulted from the continued use of naked Jights. Doubt has been expressed as t< whether an order given by the inspector for the use of safety lamps could lie enforced by him under the present Act or special rules. In the opinion of the inspector, and apparently of the officers of the Mines Department, the inspector has no power to do so. I here in no direct authority given by the Act or rules to the inspector to order the use of safety lamps, but we arc of opinion that section 58 of the Act. though not apparently framed for such purpose, may be employed on an emergency to effect the puip-ore by an indirect method.” —lnstructions to Prosecute Manager,— Proceeding, the report state.-; —"(he inspector duly reported to the I oder-{sec-retary of Mines the results of his inspection and his observations on the condition and working of the mine, and after the accident to Kelly instructions "ere received by him from the head of the department to prosecute the manager for a breach of special rule 14, for not .providing safety lamps, subject, however, to a favorable legal opinion of the ease being obtained. In consequence of an adverse opinion being received by the inspector from the linn uf solicitors to whom he referred the matter, no proceedings were taken against, the manager. Before there was time for the department to consider the position a.nd decide what further steps should be taken to secure the safety of the mines, the disaster apprehended by the, inspecting engineer of the Alines Department (as shown by his several memoranda to the Undersecretary) unfortunately occurred.” —Mr Reed's Action Criticised.--In regard to the evidence of Mr (feed, the Commissioners state: "Air Reed is entitled to credit for bringing forcibly tinder the notice of the Mines Depai lim-nt liis fear of impending danger in the Taupiri Company's mine by reason of the gas known to exist there. We agree wnli him that, not being the inspector oi mme.c lor the district, he had no right to interpose iu any directions or orders irieen to to manager, although his right as an ms pm tor of mines to inspect the mine r- bevend question. Wo cannot renain. h-m ever, from saying that wc regret- that Mr Reed did not. in the interests of luiin.-n. Ufo. personally visit and « xamny' tmmine and acquaint tho manage; oj ins \n; strong convictions as to tne giiiminent. danger threatening the mine. W c aly> ] 0 garcl it as unfortunate that specific mtil notions were not given him by tbe Alines Department. Air Reed had no occasion to visit the, mine for a cou.-idcra'.-le time before learning of the presence of gas there, but he had while at the Thames on other official business arranged witli the district inspector to visit- tlie mine in iiicompany only a short time before tne < x plosion, aml he had with him two c.crup cal lamps for trial; but as he was called away to tbe Vi est Coa-st- on übi-ial business'the visit of inspection to tlm mine H ., tin fortunately deferred." —The- Workmen's Inspectors.--

ln regard to the efficiency of (he inspection of the mine by the workmens inspectors, the report says No evidence was given by the workmen's .inspectors before the Commission. but from the evidence of other witnesses we. learned that only two inspections were made by the workmen's inspectors during the past 12 months. But that is practically sinethe, now union was formed after the first .strike during 1012. Inspector Rennie. :n his evidence, complained that he. had received no help from the union or its check inspectors. The reference to them in his letter to the Under-secretary as the creation of the mining companies was not supported by any wiUicsscs produced before tho Commissioners, who declined to hoar evidence .attempting to show victimisation.” When the report, was presented it was agreed that the discussion on it should he deferred until printed copies were available. When the copies were circulated about 9 o’clock this evening the House was engaged in another discussion, and Die debate on the report was further adjourned. —Appreciation of Rescue Work.The Commissioners add ;—" Before concluding our report, we would like to place on record our high appreciation of _ tho prompt and spontaneous manner in which the attempted rescue of the men in the mine was made by the management and workmen, and of the courage and resource displayed by all engaged in the work.' —.Suggestions.— Tho Commission considered that Die provisions for the reporting of injuries to workmen were somewhat loose' and uncertain, as it was left to the judgment of the mine manager in every case to decide whether or not the injury was serious. The following should be incorjxiratcd iu the Coal Mines Act :—“ In all dry and dusty mines, where the inspector of mines is of opinion that dust of a highly inflammable nature exists in dangerous quantities, and also in mines where safety lamps are in use, no explosives but those permitted by the chief inspector of ■Alines shall be used, and all shot firing shall bo done by officials specially appointed by the manager.” The Commission were of opinion that the existing law did not give tho inspector of mines direct authority to order the use of safety lamps or other appliances, and it recommended the inserting in' the Act of a definite section giving such authority.

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https://paperspast.natlib.govt.nz/newspapers/ESD19141031.2.23

Bibliographic details

THE HUNTLY DISASTER, Issue 15638, 31 October 1914

Word Count
2,736

THE HUNTLY DISASTER Issue 15638, 31 October 1914

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