Over 100 years ago, on Dec. 6, 1907, powerful explosions rocked mines Number 6 and 8 in Monongah, WV. The blasts were felt as far as eight miles away, shattered buildings and pavement, and threw people and horses to the ground.
On this December day, a total of 362 workers were killed, making it the worst mining disaster in U.S. history.
At the time, the mines were considered state of the art. Electricity, locomotives and huge ventilation fans which could force more than 200,000 feet of air a minute were used in the mines. But one critical factor was still left to chance and not recognized: safety.
The explosions filled the mine with “black damp,” an asphyxiant gas. The main entrance was blocked by the explosion and one of the fans was demolished, restricting ventilation. Rescue crews worked tirelessly to restore ventilation and try to rescue any survivors. By Dec. 12, ventilation was restored and 337 bodies had been found. Over the next week, another 25 bodies were recovered.
The exact cause of the explosions was never determined. The Marion County Coroner’s Jury concluded that they were caused by either a blown-out shot or by ignition and explosion of blasting powder in Mine Number 8.
Today, fatal mining accidents still occur. As recently as three years ago, an explosion rocked a mine in West Virginia, killing 29. Each time accidents and fatalities occur in the workplace, it’s a stark reminder to always keep safety at the forefront.
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration and the Mine Safety and Health Administration exist to keep workers safe and healthy on the job. But a safety mentality goes beyond governmental guidance and regulation. While there will always be dangerous jobs, many injuries and deaths could be prevented by a culture and lifestyle that truly makes “safety first.” As long as there are dangerous jobs, there is a potential for serious and deadly accidents.
More than a century ago in West Virginia, getting the job done as quickly as possible was the top priority – not safety. Today, I encourage you to make safety a priority. Make safety the backbone of your organization from the top down. By doing this, you will see major differences in workers’ attitudes and customers’ perceptions of your company as a whole.
UL Workplace Health and Safety’s evolution of safety timeline gives us a unique perspective into how catastrophic events and work-related incidents can be prevented when we make the effort to glean lessons from the past.
UL helps employers build a safe and healthy culture -- from the people up.