Springhill Colliery 18 July 1917
Four men killed by explosion of firedamp
- Thomas McLean, aged 38, died 19 July 1917
- Thomas Walker, aged 61, died 19 July 1917
- John Walker, aged 15, died 18 July 1917
- William Durnie, aged 39, died 23 July 1917
All died in Kilmarnock Infirmary
Three Men Fatally Injured in Pit Explosion – An explosion of gas, resulting in severe injuries to four men occurred in No 1 Cauldhame Pit, near Springside, about 4 miles from Kilmarnock on Wednesday. A new seam had been started in the pit some time ago, but had been abandoned, and the men were engaged in lifting the rails when the accident occurred. The injured men are William Durney, 40, fireman, Springhill Cottages, Springside, face, head, hands and forearms severely burned; Thomas Walker, 61, roadsman, Corsehill Square, Springside, fracture of left arm and extensive burns; John Walker, 16, son of the above, fracture of left thigh bone and extensive burns; Thomas McLean, 39, roadsman, Corsehill Row, Springside, slight burns on face and head and severe burns on arms, chest and back. The men, after being medically examined, were removed to Kilmarnock Infirmary. With the exception of Durney, the men are all in a critical condition. The pit is owned by Messrs J & R Howie, coalmasters, Hurlford.
Three of the four men who were injured died in Kilmarnock Infirmary on Thursday. Their names were Thomas McLean, Thomas Walker and John Walker. The fourth man William Durney, is progressing favourably, but is still in a critical condition. [Hamilton Advertiser 21 July 1917]
NB William Durnie, aged 39, also died Kilmarnock Infirmary on July 23 1917
Report On The Causes and Circumstances attending the Accident which occurred at Springhill Colliery, Ayrshire, on the 18th July, 1917, from an Explosion of Firedamp
W. WALKER, H.M. ACTING CHIEF INSPECTOR OF MINES.
HOME OFFICE, LONDON, S.W.1.,
9th April, 1918.
To the Right Honourable Sir George Cave, M.P.,
His Majesty's Principal Secretary of State for the Home Department.
Sir, I beg to state that, in accordance with your instructions, I have held a Formal Investigation, under Section 83 of the Coal Mines Act 1911, into the cause and circumstances of the accident which occurred at the Springhill Colliery on the 18th July last, by which four persons were killed; and I have to report as follows :-
At the Fatal Accident Inquiry held by the Sheriff Substitute at the Sheriff Court, Kilmarnock, on August 17th last, in connection with this accident, the Jury returned the following verdict:- "That on 18th July, 1917, the deceased Thomas Walker, John Walker, Thomas McLean, and William Durney, while in the course of their employment in the underground workings leading from the Main Coal to the Major Coal Seams of No. 1 Cauldhame Pit were so severely injured by an explosion of firedamp that they died from the effects thereof in the Kilmarnock Infirmary, the said John Walker on the 18th, the said Thomas Walker and Thomas McLean on the 19th, and the said William Durney on 23rd July, 1917."
On the morning of the 5th February I opened the Inquiry at the Sheriff Court, Kilmarnock, and took the evidence of the available witnesses. The owners of the colliery were represented by Mr. James M. Inglis, writer, of Kilmarnock, Mr. John Bain, writer, appeared for the relatives of the deceased, Mr. Robert Smillie appeared for the National Union of Scottish Mine Workers, Messrs. James Brown, James Hood, James Smith and Alexander Campbell for the Ayrshire Miners' Association; Mr. H. Walker, H.M. Divisional Inspector of Mines for the Scotland Division, and Mr. F. H. Wynne, one of the Senior Inspectors of Mines in that Division were also present.
Sixteen witnesses were examined.
A plan and section of the stone mine and workings in the Major Coal Seam, which were the subject of the Inquiry, are attached to this report.
This colliery was originally worked by Messrs. A. Finnie & Son, of Kilmarnock, but on its working being abandoned by them, Messrs. J. & R. Howie, Limited, the present owners, obtained possession of the mine and have since worked it. An area of Major Coal Seam was shown on the plan as being unworked and they decided to prove the coal in this area. For this purpose a stone mine or drift was driven from the Main Coal Seam, which it overlies at a distance of 66 feet. The mine was started sometime prior to November, 1916; it was driven at an inclination of about 1 in 4 1/2 and cut the Major Coal Seam at a distance of 185 feet from the workings in the Main Coal Seam. As the quality of coal was doubtful only one roadway was driven to it for exploration purposes. When the drift reached the Major Coal Seam, it was found the coal was dipping at 1 in 20 in the opposite direction to the stone mine or drift.
Naked lights were used by all the workmen and also by the firemen, except when they were making the examinations required by Sections 64 and 65 of the Coal Mines Act.
Ventilation was obtained by a hand-driven Sirocco fan, 10 inches in diameter, placed at the foot of of the drift; air was forced up through a range of wooden pipes or rhones, said by the late manager, Mr. D. Baillie, to be 12 inches by 12 inches. At the top of the mine a level was driven a distance of 40 feet to the left, known as Anderson's Place, and another to the right, a distance of 95 feet, known as McCrindle's place; and, out of the latter, another place was driven to the right or rise, a distance of 40 feet, known as Hunter's place. McCrindle's place was ventilated by means of a second fan, also driven by hand. This second fan had no connection with the accident which occurred on July 18th last, and it is, therefore, not shown on the plan and section attached to this report, and it will not be necessary for me to refer to it again.
The explosion occurred at about 7.30 a.m. on Wednesday. July 18th, and four men, including the fireman, William Durney, were so seriously injured that they died at Kilmarnock Infirmary later.
The evidence of the boys employed at the fan (Archibald Cook and John Turner) showed that, on the morning of the accident, they descended the shaft at between 6.45 and 7.0 o'clock, and proceeded to the fan at the bottom of the stone drift or mine leading to the Major Coal Seam. The fan was then standing. Cook arrived first and started to work the fan and Turner joined him shortly afterwards. Thomas Walker and John Walker went into the same place and were followed by William Durney and Thomas McLean, who sat down and talked with the two Walkers; they all had naked lights. When the fan had been going about half an hour they proceeded to walk up the mine. Durney went first and the three others followed him after an interval of about five minutes. In a very short time (estimated by the fan boys to be about ten minutes) the explosion occurred. One of the boys was knocked over, there was a shower of small stones and mud and their lights were extinguished. They crawled to a ventilating door and shouted for help and a roadsman came. Thomas McLean then came down the mine seriously injured. Thomas Walker, William Durney and John Walker followed, all seriously injured, and were removed to the Infirmary at Kilmarnock.
Subsequent examination of the mine showed that nearly at the top of it there was an accumulation of inflammable gas. Lying on the roadway several open lamps were found, several caps, some tools, and a pick and shovel. The first lamp was 16 feet from the top of the mine, the rhones were broken 19 feet below where this lamp was found. There is little doubt that the naked light carried by William Durney had caused the explosion at or near the point where the lamp was found (sixteen feet from the top of the mine). Some force was generated by the explosion as the rhones were broken.
In order to obtain a clear and concise idea of the circumstances which led up to and caused the accident it is necessary to describe what occurred from the preceding Saturday. On this day (July 14th) on account of the unsatisfactory nature of the coal it was decided to abandon its working, and no coal getting was done after that date. The fireman (McChristie) went in at 9.15 on Sunday night for the purpose of making his examination, but the fan at the foot of the stone mine had not started at that time, and he found what he described as blackdamp and gas at the top of the stone mine. The fan appears to have been kept going during Monday morning shift although no one was working in the Major Seam but the gas was not cleared out, for the day fireman (William Durney) reported its presence in the two reports of his inspections during his shift on that day.
On Tuesday morning two men, Thomas and John Walker, were employed in removing rails and the small fan from the Major Coal Seam workings; the fan at the bottom of the mine was kept going during the time they were doing this work. The two boys who, in the ordinary course of working, should have gone to the fan at 10 o'clock on that night were John Weeks and John Durney. The former came to the pit but returned home, and the latter did not come at all on the night shift but came on the following morning and started work as a drawer by directions of Mr. Nelson in another part of the mine. The rails were not all removed on the Tuesday; those in the stone drift up to where the explosion occurred were to be removed and the two Walkers and McLean were, at the time of the explosion, proceeding up the drift to complete this work.
The report for the day shift on Monday was the last report of an inspection of the Major Coal workings and the drift which appears in the report books. The two firemen, James Bowie (afternoon shift) and Robert McChristie (night shift) made their last inspections on Friday, the 13th July and Monday the 16th July respectively, and they explained at the Inquiry that they did not make any on the following days because the workings were stopped and no one was in the Major Coal Seam or the drift leading to it during their shifts after these dates.
Up to July 13th last Mr. D. Baillie was manager of the mine. He was succeeded by Mr. Nelson, as temporary manager, and Mr. John Banks was appointed under-manager on 8th May, 1917, and they were so acting on the date of the accident. There were three firemen for the district in which the explosion occurred, viz., William Durney, Robert McChristie, and James Bowie. Durney was the day fireman, James Bowie was on the afternoon shift and Robert McChristie on the night shift, and as they were always employed on the same shifts Durney made the inspection and report required by Section 64 (1) of the Coal Mines Act before the day shift started work during the week, and on Sunday night Robert McChristie made an inspection under this section before the night shift started work. The staffing of the mine appears to me to have been sufficient to comply with the requirements of the Coal Mines Act and secure safety, but I regret I am unable to report that the management carried out the duties placed on them by the Act in a satisfactory manner.
The hand fan at the bottom of the stone mine was always stopped on Saturday afternoon, usually between 1 and 2 o'clock, and did not start again until sometime on 'Sunday afternoon, depending when the shift of .men were coming in on Sunday night, and during that period there was no means of ventilating the stone mine and workings in Major Coal Seam, and firedamp naturally accumulated. Two of the firemen were brought in earlier on Sundays to start the fan and remove the accumulated firedamp, and both the firemen (McChristie and Bowie) stated in their evidence that it never took less than 4 hours to do so.
Their evidence on this point was as follows: -
Robert McChristie. (By Mr. W. Walker)
Do you know from your own knowledge that the fan stopped on Saturday and did not start till Sunday night, when you made your inspection? - That is so.
Was it the usual custom at the weekends? - It was the usual custom when nobody was going to work.
Was it the usual custom for the fan to stop on Saturday sometime, although you cannot say the exact time? - Yes.
And remain off until the Sunday night?—Well, I have seen us being out at three o'clock on the Sunday to get the gas out if they were going to be working on the Sunday night.
If the fan was stopped, would there be any ventilation going up that mine?—There would be no ventilation going up if the hand fan was stopped.
Take the 24th June, you say in your report "with the exception of gas in Major "?—Yes.
That was a Sunday night?—Yes.
At what time on Sunday night?—9.15.
Was that after the tan had been standing?—I expect it would be.
Was the fan working at that time on the Sunday night? —I cannot go so far back as the 24th of June.
You said that it did stop some time on Saturday till Sunday night?—Yes; except in certain cases, when we started at three o'clock to get the gas out when the men were going to be working.
On this 24th of June, when did the fan start?—I cannot tell.
Had it been standing for some time on the Sunday?—It would stand all Saturday afternoon and all Saturday night, anyway.
Take the 1st of July, the report says: "With the exception of gas near Hunter's place in major"? - Yes.
What time was that? - It was 9.15 when I went down to make my inspection.
Take the 8th of July, what does that say? - "With the exception of gas in Anderson's place."
Is Anderson's place in the major coal seam? - Yes.
Was that at 9.15, too?—It says 9.15 when I went down.
Take the 15th of July; these are all Sundays that I am now asking you about. What does that say?—"None, with the exception of gas in major coal."
That is the same thing again?—Yes.
You say there was more than 1.5 per cent, each time on these Sunday nights after the fan had been standing?—Yes.
At about 20 yards from the face?—Yes.
How long did it take after you found the gas to clear it with the fan?—I have seen us taking about five hours.
Did it take every week-end about five hours to clear the gas?—I have seen it taking less.
What is the least time that it took? - I have seen us having it quite clear in four hours. Was the least time four hours? - Yes.
James Bowie (By Mr. W. Walker.)
Were you in on the Sunday previous to the explosion? - No.
Were you in on the Sunday week prior to that? - I was at the fan on Sunday afternoon, 8th July. I saw McChristie, the other fireman.
What were you doing? - Removing gas.
What time did you go down the pit on that Sunday? - Three o'clock.
At what time were the men coming in to work? - Half-past ten.
Who were they? - Colliers.
Did the colliers start at half-past ten on the Sunday night - Yes.
Have you colliers on the Sunday night and on the fore shift on the Monday? - Yes; from six to two or seven to three.
Do you have any colliers in on the afternoon of Monday? - No.
Was anybody with you and McChristie on the 8th? - Yes, there was one Patrick M'Court.
What was he doing? - He was at the fan, too.
All three employed at the fan from three o'clock till what time? - Till the gas went away.
How long was that? - It took from about five to six hours.
On the 1st of July, the Sunday before that, were you in? - As far as I remember, I was. I was usually there most Sundays.
Were you there every Sunday? - No; not every Sunday, but mostly every Sunday.
When you were there, may I take it that you were employed at the fan? - Yes; we we're usually employed there clearing out the gas
How long did it take you? - Nearly five to six hours.
Nearly every week-end? - Sometimes less and sometimes more. It was usually five or six hours, but I have seen us taking it out in less than five hours.
Ever less than four hours? - Well, I cannot say that.
On the 1st and on the 8th, and practically every Sunday you were there, you were getting gas out and it never took you less than four hours? - I do not remember it ever taking less than four hours.
Mr. John Banks, under-manager of the Colliery, also gave evidence as follows:-
John Banks (By Mr. W. Walker.)
Have you seen the fireman's reports since 11th May? - Yes.
Did you notice reports of gas? - Yes.
Occurring frequently? - Yes, quite a number of times.
Did you notice that you always, or practically always, had gas reported on a Sunday night or the Sunday afternoon? - Mostly on Sunday night.
At what time did the fan stop running on the Saturday? - Between one and two o'clock.
When did it start again on the Sunday? - Mostly in the afternoon.
Was that to clear out any gas that had accumulated during that period the fan had been stopped to prepare the place for the men on. the night shift? - No, it was to assist the ventilation, I did not see much gas.
Is it not a fact that the men went in on Sunday afternoon to start the fan to clear out the gas which had accumulated in the major coal? - Well, it was to clear out gas if any had accumulated.
You have told me that you noticed in the reports that gas was reported? - Yes, mostly on Sunday nights.
If the firemen say that when these accumulations took place it never took less than four hours to clear out the gas which had accumulated, is that true? - Well, according to their statements, yes. They told me it was taking that time.
Do you think there is anything unreasonable in that statement? - Of course there would be no other man working then in the mine.
Did it take, do you think, never less than four hours to clear out the gas that had accumulated during the time the fan had stopped from Saturday to Sunday? - I cannot say.
Did you make any inquiry? - No, except through the fireman who told me it never took less.
Had you any reason to disbelieve the fireman? - No.
Do you think it is true that it took that time to clear the gas? - It must have been when they told me.
You say you signed all these reports? - Yes.
Take Sunday night, 1st July; McChristie reported that he had examined the major mine and wee coal seams, and he said that there was "none, with the exception of gas in Hunter's place in the major; second inspection, all clear." Is that right? - Yes.
Then the next Sunday night, 8th July, he says: "None, with the exception of gas in Anderson's place in the major." Which was Anderson's and which was Hunter's place? - Anderson's place was the one going south. The level was going north, and this place was turning off to the east going south. It was a place on the left-hand side of the mine. Hunter's place was the one going almost west.
Was it going to the rise ? - It was not much of a rise, but there is a little rise on it.
Coming to the 15th of July, McChristie says: "None, with the exception of gas in the major place; second inspection, all clear, with the exception of firedamp in the major coal." What time would that second inspection be made? - I do not know at what time it would be made. It would be some time in the middle of the shift; it might be in the middle or towards the end.
So that it had taken longer than four hours to clear that gas, because it is reported on the 16th, on the Monday: ''None, but firedamp in major coal; second inspection, nothing but firedamp in major coal "? - Yes.
Have you never been there when there was gas? - I think on a Monday morning about the 15th of June, when there was a breakdown of the rhone.
Was there gas then ? - Yes.
Where was it? - In, Hunter's place, I think
Did it come out to the top of the mine? - Not quite.
Did it come to the foot of Hunter's place? - Almost.
To where the second fan was? - Yes.
How much gas would there be at that time? - About 25 feet.
Was that the length of it? - Yes.
What thickness would there be? - At the tail it was not very thick, but it was thick further in.
How far would it go up before it tailed out? - About 25 feet.
What do you estimate would be the average thickness of it? - About 2 feet.
What was the area of the width? - The road was 5 feet wide.
Would you have 250 cubic feet at that time? - Yes.
How long had the rhones been broken? - They were broken down when the men went in on the Sunday and it was Monday afternoon before they were put right. The men did not get starting till the rhones were fixed up.
How long did it take to clear the gas that was accumulated at that time? - It was cleared before any of them went in. It would probably be five or six hours.
(By Mr. Smillie.) Supposing we take it for granted for a moment that it did not work on Tuesday night, and that gas was being got in the major seam, you would naturally expect that it would accumulate in the workings? - Without ventilation it would.
With the fan not working, the ventilation would practically go off ? - Yes.
What would be the effect of the fan starting to work half an hour or twenty minutes after .the fireman or the two Walkers went in? Would the effect not be to mix up the air with the gas and bring it down on the naked lights? - Well, I do not know.
Can you not say what the effect would be of the fan starting to work? - It would cause a mixture of air and gas.
And would it not drive that mixture of air and gas out of the mine in the morning? - Yes, that would be the effect of it.
And it might have been very dangerous for the lads at the fan itself? - Yes, if there had been a sufficient amount of gas to form an explosive mixture.
(By Mr Bain) At the Public Inquiry did you make a statement that gas had been reported to you about twenty times in sixteen weeks? - Yes, in the book.
You are aware, as Under Manager, that a duty lay on you to have a meeting daily with the fireman to confer as to the condition of the mine? - Yes.
You would learn verbally also from the fireman about the presence of gas? - Yes.
Did the discovery of gas so frequently in that part of the workings not suggest to your mind the conferring with the Manager as to a better system of ventilation? - Of course, I always conferred with the Manager.
What did the Manager say? - He gave us his opinion.
Was it your opinion that something should be done?—We were always able to have the place in a condition free from gas.
Did these reports not suggest to you that you should consider whether safety lamps should be found? - Of course, that is for the Manager.
But you conferred with the Manager on these matters? - Yes, but I left him to give his own decisions.
You never heard of anything being done? - No.
From the evidence given at the Inquiry I am of opinion that breaches of Section 29 (1) of the Coal Mines Act, 1911, were committed by the owners, the manager (Mr. Baillie) prior to July 14th, and Mr. Robert Nelson, who acted as manager after that date, by reason of their failure to produce constantly an adequate amount of ventilation to dilute and render harmless inflammable and noxious gases in the stone mine and Major Coal Seam workings, owing to the fan, which was the only means of providing ventilation of that seam, being allowed to be stopped every Saturday afternoon from between 1 and 2 o'clock to the following Sunday afternoon, and also for at least 16 hours before the accident. As a result of this failure gas accumulated to such an extent that it never took less than four hours to remove it and the roads and workings were not in a fit state for working or passing them. This practice was the cause of the accumulation of firedamp which resulted in the explosion.
Further, the system of ventilation on the date of the explosion and for sometime previously (for how long none of the witnesses were able to say) was unsatisfactory. A brattice sheet had previously been fixed across the road, on the in-bye side of the fan, to prevent the gases, coming down the stone mine into the return airway, from passing the inlet to the fan and mixing with the pure air forced by the fan up the wooden pipes or rhones to the workings in the Major Coal Seam, but this brattice had been for sometime previously displaced or removed with the result that the foul gases brought down the stone mine or drift by the fan mixed with the fresh air at the inlet to the fan and part, at least, of them were driven back up the mine and into the workings. Such a system was clearly inadequate.
On the evidence I can come to no other conclusion than that both the managers (Messrs. Baillie and Nelson) were guilty of gross mismanagement. They saw and signed the firemen's reports, which showed that the presence of gas was being frequently reported - between March 12th, 1917, and the date of the accident there were no less than 33 separate reports by the firemen of gas being found in the stone mine and Major Coal Seam - but no enquiry into this serious condition was made and steps were not taken by them to provide and maintain a constant and adequate amount of ventilation. If they had carried out their duties as an ordinarily careful manager would have done, the gas would not have accumulated and the accident would have been prevented. They both admitted in evidence at the Inquiry that the fan was stopped, from Saturday afternoon to Sunday afternoon each week, with their knowledge and consent, and that they knew gas accumulated when it stopped, but they did not visit the mine on a Sunday afternoon and by inspection satisfy themselves of the nature and extent of the accumulations.
In their evidence at the Inquiry Mr. Baillie and Mr. Nelson stated :-
While you were there, did you see the reports made by the fireman of the inspections of the mine and the major coal? - Yes.
Did you notice that on Sunday, the 8th July - previous to the time you left - there was gas reported? - I cannot say off-hand.
But you saw it and signed these reports as Manager? - Yes.
Did you notice that this was occurring frequently - nearly every weekend? - Not particularly the weekends.
But it was occurring every week-end, practically, according to the reports, for some considerable time ? Did you know that on the Sunday it was necessary for the fireman to go down the shaft before the next shift came on in order to clear the gas after the fan had been standing, and that it took about eight hours, and never less than four hours, to clear the gas prior to the men starting work? - Yes.
Did you know that the fan at the bottom of the mine was not running from the end of the morning shift on the Saturday? - It stopped on the Saturday afternoon.
At what time? - Between one and two o'clock.
It was not started again till the Sunday? - No.
At what time would it be started on the Sunday? - It was through the day, if the shift was going on on the Sunday night.
If the men were going on at night, what time did the fan start? - Five or six hours prior to the shift coming in.
Did it always take five or six hours to make this place clear of gas for the men to come in ? -Not always.
If the fireman tells us that it took four or five hours, is that true or is it not true? - It might at an odd time take that, and at other times not more than an hour.
If they say it never took less than four hours, is that true or is it not true? - I do not recollect it taking so long.
Did you discuss this with the fireman? -No; I never knew it took that length of time.
Mr. Robert Nelson
You know that from about the beginning of March till the day of the explosion gas is reported by the fireman on some 30 or more occasions - 33, I think? - Yes.
And that it was always, or nearly always, reported on the Sunday night? - Not always on the Sunday night.
If you go back for a long time, with very few exceptions, I think it is? - In a good many cases it is reported simply a tracing of gas.
That does not appear from the reports themselves; it says in some cases there were traces, but not often? - Oh, yes, in a good many cases.
Look at the end of April and the beginning of May? On 10th April there is "a tracing in Hunter's place"; on 23rd May, "a tracing in Hunter's place " ; on 10th June, "none" in the first report, and "a tracing" in the second; on 4th July, "small quantity in Anderson's place ": on 5th July, "a tracing in Hunter's place " ; on 6th July, '' a tracing in Hunter's place." That is six out of 30 odd ones: - Yes.
Did it never occur to you with these numerous reportings of gas by the fireman, and the fact that you always had it when the fan was stopped, to regard these as dangerous? - No.
Do you know or do you not know what is the standard of danger, so far as the withdrawal of men from a working-place is concerned? What is the percentage for a naked light? - 1.5, I think.
Is it not less than that? - I may be wrong.
What is the smallest quantity you can see with the lowest flame of a safety lamp ? - 1 per cent.
Can you see 1 per cent. ? - I do not remember whether you can or not.
Do you know if this fireman could see it? - Really, I have nothing to do with that.
No, but I am asking you for information. Do you think that the fireman could see it? - Well, I have never tested it.
In view of the fact that you had all these reports of gas, do you think it was dangerous to go on with the use of naked lights here? - No.
Although it took four or five hours to clear out the accumulations of gas that occurred from Saturday to Sunday night when the fan was stopped? - Yes.
They say that that occurred nearly every Sunday night, and that they had to go in on the Sunday night for the purpose of removing the gas that had accumulated ? - I do not think there would be gas every Sunday night.
Well, nearly every Sunday? - No, it is impossible.
The fireman's evidence is that it never took less than four hours to clear the gas? - That would be fifty-two Sundays in the year, and it is not possible.
The first Sunday I have got is the first day of the fourth month - "None, except in the major mine," second inspection, "all clear, with the exception of gas in major mine "? - Yes.
Had the fan been going some time there? - Yes.
Take the 8th of April: None, except a tracing in major mine," second inspection, "all clear " ; 22nd April, "None, except gas in major mine," second inspection, " All clear, except gas and a fall in major mine " ; 12th May, " None, unless gas in major," second inspection, " All clear " ; 10th June, " A tracing " ; 24th June, " None, with the exception of gas in major," second inspection, " All clear, with the exception of first report " : 1st July, " None, with the exception of gas in Hunter's place in major," second inspection, " All clear " ; 8th July, " None, with the exception of gas in Andersen's place in major," second inspection, "All clear"; 10th July. "None, with the exception of gas in major places," second inspection, " All clear, with the exception of firedamp in major coal." In view of all these inspections and reports, did it not occur to you that with that system of ventilation it was a dangerous place in which to use naked lights? - No.
Did it never occur to you that gas had been found in quantities indicative of danger? - No.
Did it not? - No.
Remembering that the Act requires the men to be withdrawn where there is 1.25 per cent of gas, and that that has to be deemed dangerous, and remembering that you have had all these reports which must have been above1.25 per cent., do you not consider that it was indicative of danger? - It depends wholly on what the fireman means by a tracing.
We have got these cases of traces, do you not consider that was indicative of danger? - No.
This evidence, apart from that of the firemen (McChristie and Bowie) and the under-manager (Mr. Banks) is clear proof that they were extremely lax in the management of the mine, and discloses a disregard of precautions obviously necessary for the safe working of the mine.
The provisions of Section 32 (1) (c) of the Coal Mines Act were at the time of the accident, and for some time prior to it, contravened by the owners and management by open lights being allowed to be used.. It is difficult to understand how, in the circumstances disclosed by the Inquiry, the use of naked lights could have been allowed, and if safety lamps had been in use, as they should have been, the explosion, even with the defective ventilation which existed, would not have occurred.
It was suggested at the Inquiry that the accident was due to the deceased fireman (Durney) failing to make an examination with a safety lamp before himself going up and taking men up the mine with naked lights. There was no direct evidence that he actually did this, as Durney and the other men unfortunately succumbed to their injuries, but, even if he did, it is no excuse for the failure to use safety lamps.
A serious contravention of Clause 5 (a) of the Explosives Order, which requires that no explosive other than a permitted explosive shall be used in or taken for the purpose of use into a seam in which inflammable gas has been found in such quantity as to be indicative of danger within the previous three months, was also, in my opinion, committed by the late manager, Mr. D. Baillie, and Mr. Nelson; as, notwithstanding the frequency with which firedamp was found and the time it took to remove the accumulations, non-permitted explosives - gunpowder and gelignite fired by ordinary fuse - were used in the Major Coal Seam.
The evidence of all the witnesses who were questioned on this point is the same, and the late manager, Mr. Baillie, the manager and the under-manager, at the date of the explosion (Messrs. Nelson and Banks) admitted the use of non-permitted explosives and the method of firing the shots. Under Section 67 of the Coal Mines Act the finding of 1.25 per cent, of inflammable gas in a naked light mine is deemed to be dangerous, but at this mine quantities of gas greatly exceeding this were being regularly found and were not even regarded as indicative of danger.
Several other irregularities were also disclosed at the Inquiry: (1) On gas being discovered by the firemen, General Regulation 51, which requires that any place in which danger is found by the firemen shall have its approaches fenced off so that it cannot be inadvertently entered and that the firemen shall mark the place by a danger signal, was not complied with. (2) Firemen's reports were not kept for twelve months, as required by Section 24(1). I cited Mr. Robert Nelson to produce the reports from the date of the commencement of the stone mine to a week after the accident. He, however, did not produce those for the month of February, which he stated he had not got. (3) The two firemen (McChristie and Bowie) did not agree as to where the station, required to be fixed by the manager under Section 63 of the Coal Mines Act, actually was. One said it was at the pithead and the other said it was at the bottom of the shaft. (4) The fireman, on Sunday afternoons, instead of making an inspection of the Major Coal Seam and returning to the station before admitting any workmen, as required by General Regulation 50, took them in with him and left them at the bottom of the stone mine. These irregularities show that proper care was not exercised by the management to enforce and see that the requirements of the Coal Mines Act and Regulations were carried out.
I wish to express my thanks to the Sheriff Clerk and Procurator-Fiscal at Kilmarnock and also to the representatives of the various interests who attended the Inquiry, for the assistance they gave me in making the arrangements for holding the Inquiry and in eliciting all the facts relating to the causes and circumstances of the accident.
I have the honour to be Sir, Your obedient Servant,