Canadian Consulting Engineer

COAL MINING

Say so long and say good-bye toTwenty-six who lost their lives.Sons and fathers all were one,Left behind a mile down.Say so long to those brave souls,Who worked the mine and dug the coal,The light wen...

March 1, 2001   Canadian Consulting Engineer

Say so long and say good-bye to

Twenty-six who lost their lives.

Sons and fathers all were one,

Left behind a mile down.

Say so long to those brave souls,

Who worked the mine and dug the coal,

The light went out that fateful day

In a mine they call Westray

— poem dedicated to survivors and families of the Westray

Mining Disaster (www.memorbankinc.com)

Ever since the 19th century, when men, women and children laboured in pitch darkness in cramped underground mine shafts, coal mining has been associated with dangerous work and labour unrest.

Western Canada’s coal is relatively easily mined at the surface, but the underground mines in Atlantic Canada have seen their share of human tragedy, as memoralized in the late 1990s film, Margaret’s Museum. Increased mechanization and a tightening of health and safety laws have improved working conditions, but fatalities still occur.

The most recent large-scale tragedy in Canada was the loss of 26 lives in an underground explosion in the early hours of May 9, 1992 at the Westray coal mine near Stellarton, Nova Scotia. The public inquiry into the tragedy found that it was the result of complex causes, but that it would not have occurred if the coal dust was being controlled and the mine had been adequately ventilated. The inquiry commissioner, Justice K. Peter Richard, blamed the mine operators and owners, who had not abided by the safety laws, and the civil servants who had failed to properly monitor the mine’s operations. He concluded: “It is a story of incompetence, of mismanagement, of bureaucratic bungling, of deceit, of ruthlessness, of cover-up, of apathy, of expediency, and of cynical indifference.”

The coal industry in Canada currently employs over 9,000 men and women from coast to coast. In 1998, 75.3 million tonnes of coal was extracted in Canada. Roughly 45% was for export, half of that going to Japan.


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