Historically, large-scale mine disasters have stirred the fires of reform and provided the impetus for legislation to provide the miner with a safer working place.
Thus, it happened in 1907 when the Fairmont Coal Company's mine at Monongah, West Virginia exploded killing 362 men and boys. Congress reacted to the disaster at Monongah by passing and toughening mining laws.
In 1910, following a decade in which the number of coal mine fatalities exceeded 2,000 annually, Congress established the Bureau of Mines as a new agency in the Department of the Interior. The Bureau was charged with the responsibility to conduct research and to reduce accidents in the coal mining industry.
Again, in 1968, and less than five miles from Monongah, an explosion and a resulting fire killed 78 men at the Consol No 9 mines at Farmington, West Virginia.
Out of the uproar caused by the Farmington explosion came the Federal Coal Mine Health and Safety Act of 1969, a far reaching document that promised a new day for the men in an industry that had claimed more than 100,000 lives since 1900. Even before the Farmington mine blew up in 1968, the push was on for a better mine safety law. The Johnson Administration introduced a measure in the fall of 1968 that would dramatically strengthen the government's enforcement tools. However, it went to Congress too late to achieve action. Then came the explosion at Farmington and there were new converts to the cause of mine safety. The Nixon Administration expanded upon the Johnson Administration proposals of 1968 and addressed the potential for mine explosions in proposed legislation. President Nixon signed the Federal Coal Mine Health and Safety Act of 1969 on December 30, 1969.
Enforcement powers in coal mines increased vastly. The Act required four annual inspections for each underground coal mine, and two for each surface mine. The Act for the first time established mandatory fines for all violations and criminal penalties for knowing and willful violations. The act eliminated so-called "non-gassy" mines from special legal exemptions. All mines were considered gassy and additional inspections were required. The powers of the inspectors were broadened. The inspectors were given the power to close a mine for imminent danger. Miners were given the right to request a Federal inspection. Safety standards for all coal mines were strengthened under the 1969 Act, and health standards adopted. The Act also provided benefits to miners disabled by black lung disease.
The legacy of the Sunshine Mine disaster is reflected in greatly enhanced miner training programs and fire protection measures in metal and nonmetal mines across the country. In 1973 the Mine Enforcement and Safety Administration (MESA) was created out of the Bureau of Mines as the first Federal agency with the sole purpose of assuring miners of a safe, healthful working environment. Standards requiring mine emergency and self-rescuer training, regular evacuation drills, and two mine rescue teams at underground metal and nonmetal operations were promulgated by April of 1973.
On March 9, 1977, the Agency was transferred from the Department of the Interior to the Department of Labor and was renamed the Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA). The legislation, which was signed by President Jimmy Carter, repealed the Federal Metal and Nonmetal Mine Safety Act and amended the Federal Coal Mine Health and Safety Act of 1969 to combine protection of coal and metal and nonmetal miners under a single law, the Federal Mine Safety and Health Act of 1977 (the Act). Following passage of the Act, additional required miner training, increased MSHA enforcement activities, and upgraded fire prevention standards continued to address the lessons learned from fires at the Cargill Salt Mine, Belle Isle, Louisiana and the Sunshine Mine at Kellogg, Idaho.
The new Act of 1977 required at least four complete inspections of all coal and noncoal underground mines and two of all surface mines each year. The old Metal and Nonmetal law called for only one inspection of underground mines annually and no annual inspections of surface operations."
Among other important changes, the new law provided for procedures to streamline and speed up the regulation-making process and stronger mechanisms for enforcing compliance with Federal health and safety standards. This included increased capability of dealing with the most dangerous mine hazards; increased emphasis on protection of miners' health; greater involvement of miners or their representatives in processes affecting workers' health and safety; and improved procedures for assessing and collecting civil penalties imposed for violating mine health or safety requirements.
Mine accidents have declined dramatically both in number and severity as a result of decades of research, technology, education, and preventive programs. Today, mine accidents resulting in five or more deaths are no longer common. However, preventing recurrence of disasters like those of the past remains a top priority requiring constant vigilance by management, labor, and government.
In the following pages we are providing you a pictorial exhibition. The exhibition is beginning with the 1907 disaster at Fairmont Coal Company's mine at Monongah, West Virginia. We will be adding to this page as time goes on.
Exhibitions on MSHA's Web Site
1900 Winter Quarters No. 4 Mine DisasterThe day 200 miners died near Scofield, Utah. 1907 DisasterFairmont Coal Company's mine at Monongah, West Virginia. 1972 DisasterSunshine Mining Company at Kellogg, Idaho
Links to Other Sites
The Fraterville Mine Disaster - May 19, 1902
The Cross Mountain Mine Disaster - December 9, 1911
The Harwick Mine Disaster - January 25, 1904
Marianna Mine Disaster - November 29, 1908
For more information contact the Technical Information Center and Library at 304-256-3266 or MSHALibrary@dol.gov located at the National Mine Health and Safety Academy, Beckley, West Virginia