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Minutes of evidence taken before the Royal Commission on Mines online

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20782. So far as you are aware there is no system of
regular inspection of the mines made monthly, half-
yearly, or even annually ? — I am not aware of any.

20783. Is it your opinion that there should be an increase
in the staff of inspectors ? — Decidedly.

20784. Hav.^ you any opinion as to the additional number
which would be necessary ? — Under our Bill we desire

* one for each 10,000 men employed in or about the mine.
Personally, I think that is scarcely sufficient, and that there
' should be m(>n*.



20785. You think that one for each 10,000 person^
employed in or about the mines in Great Britain would no
be enough for an effective and efficient inspection ? — I
think not.

20786. Have you considered the matter, and can you say
how many you think would be necessary ? — I should be
inclined to follow the lines of the French system. They
have an inspector for every 2,000 persons employed, which
I think is not over-much.

20787. As to the method of appointing, do you approve
the French system which, I understand, gives the workmen
in the locality the right to appoint ? — I quite approve of it.

20788. And of course that they should be paid, as the
present inspectors are paid, by the Government ? — Yes.

20789. Have you any suggestion to make as to the
qualifications necessary for assistant inspectors proposed
by the Miners' Federation ? — ^We consider that additional
inspectors appointed should be drawn from practical men
who hold certificates of competency either of the first or
second class.

20790. (Mr. Ratcliffe EUis.) Do you think second class
would be sufficient ? — Either first or second class. We have
many men working at the coal face just now who hold first-
class certificates, and they would be, I think, quite com-
petent to take up duties of that kind.

20791. (Mr. SmiUie.) You would not object to its being
limited to persons holding first-class certificates ? — I w^ould
not object at all.

20792. But you are strongly of opinion that they should
be persons who hold certificates which would show that
they had a considerable amount of practical experience ? —
Yes, a good deal of practical experience, say, at least five
years' experience, or more.

20793. Are you of opinion that persons who have had
that experience are more likely to make efficient inspec-
tions tJian the present class of inspectors ? — I think they
are. They are more accustomed to that kind of work ; that
is to say, they are more accustomed to the mining work,
and I think they would take more readily to it.

20794. I believe you have no complaint to make of our
present inspectors other than it is physically impossible
for them to make the inspection which you desire ? — I
have no complaint to make of them at all ; but from our
experience we know that it is practically impossible for
them to make the inspections such as we should like to see.

20795. Are you of opinion that our present system of
mines inspection, limited though it is, tends to the safety
of the miners ? — It is bound to have a tendency in that
direction. If you were to withdraw the inspection it would
make a great difference, in my opinion, because it would
increase the laxity of the managers a great deal.

20796. The expectation which now exists of a surprise
visit on the part of inspectors tends to make managers more
careful than they otherwise would be ? — That is so.

20797. We may take it there are a few managers whose
chief desire is to obtain large outputs, and they are less
careful with the lives of the men than they otherwise might
be ? — My view is thai the main object to the manager is to
produce a large output, no matter how it is obtained.

20798. And sometimes even the Mines Act is to some
extent neglected in order to secure that ? — I would not like
to go that far, but we have a suspicion in that direction
that it is not so carefully observed in order to secure the end
they have in view.

20799. Would you propose that the additional in-
spectors if appointed should be responsible to the chief
inspector ? — Certainly ; you must have someone to control
them.

20800. Would you proj^ose to confine them to a par-
ticular district, or to place them, as they are now, under the
inspector to be se^t to any district he might care to senc
them to ? — I think it might be well that he chief inspector
should have the control of these additional inspectors,
have power to send them where he thinks they will be
most useful, and not limit them to any particular area.

20801. You are well aware that under Rule 38 the miners
have at present the right to appoint two of their number
who are practical miners to make inspections once a month ?
— I am aware of that rule.

20802. Is it taken advantage of at the present time ? —
It is not taken advantage of at all scarcely in our district.
The last inspection that was made in my district was in
July, 1899, 1 think, and for several years before that there
were no inspections made.

20803. May we take it from that ciroiunst&nce there is no



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occasion for inspection in our district ? — There is a good
deal of occasion for it in my view ; but the reason why the
men do not take advantage of that rule is that they are
afraid of giving offence to the employers, and when ihe
inspections were made there was very seldom any defect
disclosed through these inspections which caused the men
who appointed the inspectors to get the notion that it was
useless to continue it because there were no practical results
in their view. I think that is an additional reason why the
inspections are not taken advantage of. I consider that
men appointed for that purpose should be entirely outside
the influence of any employer and free to give an unbiassed
and fair opinion as to how they find ihe condition of the
mine. We have always contended that we should have the
privilege that we fought for in 1887 when the Act was
passed, and that the clause should contain ihe words,
'* Miners who are, or have been, employed in the mine
should be eligible for making the inspections." The
words " have been " were struck out in the House of Lords
that year, and we have been left practically in the same
position as we were prior to the passing of that Act, on this
particular point, only with this advantage that we could
select our men from different collieries to go and inspect
others.

20804. (Chairman.) You can do so now ? — ^Yes.

20805. (Mr, Smillie.) But they must be working miners
at the time of their selection ? — They must be working
miners at the time of their appointment.

20806 You are of opinion that this Bule will not be
taken advantage of, or, if it is taken advantage of, the
inspection will not be so effective as it might be, unless
you have the power to appoint persons who are not in fear
of the influence of the employer ? — ^That is my view.

20807. It would be taken advantage of more frequently
if that were so ? — ^I am certain it would. We proposed in
our district that we should have the power to appoint men
who should go over the whole of our county, but we dis-
covered that that would not conform with the rule, because
it was held that after they were engaged to make an
inspection at one of our collieries they would not be eligible
to make an inspection at another, as, being engaged in
making an inspection at the coUieiy, they would not be
then practical working miners and eligible to go down
and inspect another colliery.

20808-9. {Chairman.) You mean that the meie fact that
a working miner had been down another mine for purposes of
inspection would take him out of the category of a working
miner ? — That is what we understood.

20810. Your recollection is that the clause was as you
wanted it to be in the House of Commons, but those words
" have been " were struck out in the House of Lords ? —
That is my recollection.

20811. (Mr. Smillie.) You understand that the reason
for the words " not being mining engineers " being put in
by the employers was to prevent persons who might be
interested seeing their mines ? Have you any objection
to the words " not being mining engineers " ? — I have no
objection to that.

20812. You would be satisfied if this clause read : " who
are or have been " ? — Yes.

20813. That would give ycu an opportunity which you
do not now possess of appointing from the workmen and
paying men to make a periodical examination in the district ?
—Yea.

20814. There is no difficulty in youi district, or Scotland
generally, about payment for this work ? — ^None whatever.
We have for many years had a standing order in our
Union that if a district applies to the General Secre-
tary fcr an inspection cf that kind to be made, the Union
pays all the expenses connected with the inspection ; but
notwithstanding there is no difficulty about the payment,
the men seem not to take advantage of it.

20815. Is it, so far as you know, a fact that it is because
of the hard work it involves that the men have been pre-
vented from undertaking it ? — I have never heard wiat
jtated myself.

20816. Do you think that any person has refused to
make an inspection on that ground ? — ^It might be possible
for someone to have done so, because if you take a man
away from his work he may think it will be harder for him
to return to his work in consequence of what may have
occurred while he is away, but it is not harder work than
working at the face.

20817. Ycu think that the appointment of two men
would prevent that 7 — ^That is sa

20818. Now come to the question of the appointment
of firemen to make an inspection in the morning. Are



you satisfied with the present position of matters as to the Mr. J. Weir.
appointment of firemen, and their qualifications generally ? - - ^ — i
—I am not. Iljunal907

20819. Do you think it necessary there should be some
examination and certificate of competency for men holding
that position ? — I think there should be, because I consider
the fireman one of the most important officials in a coUiery.

20820. And that applies especially where there are
dangers arising from accumulations of gas ? — Undoubtedly,

20821. The fireman cannot possibly efficiently look after
the safety of the mine under his charge unless he is a
thoroughly practical miner 7 — ^That is my opinion. He
ouffht to be a thoroughly practical man, and there ought
to be some examination, so that we should have confidence
in him.

20822. And if he was a practical miner it would be aU
the better if he had some theoretical knowledge of gases
and ventilation 7 — Undoubtedly.

20823. So that you are favourable to certificates of
competency being granted to firemen 7 — I am, and that
has grown on me recently from what has come to my
knowledge. In recent fatal accident inquiries, upon
the examination of firemen, they have confessed in the
witness- bcx that they did not even know the rules— one
of them, at least, did not know the rules — applicable to
their duties, and they had not read them. Another one
whom I examined myself confessed to tapping a stone with
his knuckles instead of using a hammer or a pick in order
to discover whether or not the stone which caused the
accident was loose. That, I think , is rather an extraordinary
condition of things to exist, and ought to be prevented by
some method of examination to ascertain whether the
men are competent or not.

20824. At the present time it depends entirely on the
managers, who are supposed under the Act to appoint
competent persons 7 — Yes.

20825. A manager may appoint some person who is
admittedly not competent, merely through favour 7 —
That is so. Of course I cannot speak to any particular
case further than what I have known myself and what I
have spoken of here, but men have evidently been
appointed not because they were competent, but from
some other cause. We have it frequently reported from
the collieries that men are appointed with very little
experience, and men coming from other trades have, after
the lapse of a short time, been appointed to that important
position. Further, we have these men at several coUieries,
not all, and I do not think the majority, paid less wages than
the working miner, which, as you will observe, cannot
attract men with practical knowledge.

20826. One of the Scotch inspectors, I think, complained
of the remuneration paid to those men, and said the wages
paid to them did not attract the best class of men. You
asree that at some collieries in your county that is so 7 —
We have them paid as low as 5s. 3Jd., 5s. 4d., 6s., and
6s. 4d., whereas a competent miner just now can make
6s. 6d. or 6s. 9d. easily.

20827. You think a competent miner is not likely to
take the important position of fireman at a reduced rate
of payment 7 — Certainly not, plus the responsibility to
the fireman.

20828. That may have something to do with the appoint-
ment of men in some cases who are not as highly qualified
as they might be 7 — Certainly. I believe that some of
the men appointed do not understand the responsibilities
attached to the position.

20829. Have you any personal knowledge of the extent
of the district which the firemen in your district are
supposed to examine 7 — ^I have no personal knowledge, ^
but when I was working in a mine aoout 30 years ago it "y^
was quite the common practice that a pretty long stretch

of longwall was allotted to one man, and he went down
perhaps an hour and a half or two hours before the shift
began, and the firemen themselves confessed that they
did nothing else but went round the faces, made a cursory
examination, put a chalk mark on each face, and that
constituted the inspection ; and according to the informa-
tion I can obtain now from any of the representative men
at the collieries, I gather that is practically what is in
existence to-day. The men do not go out and in the roads
as is required by the rule.

20830. (Dr. Haldane.) They simply go along the face,
without examining each road 7 — ^Yes.

20831. (Mr. SmiUie.) You are aware that they are
supposed to examine every roadway which the men are
likely or expected to travel 7 — ^That is the law.



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MINUTES OP EVIDENCE .



Mr, J. Weir. 20832. it is your opinion thai that law Is not carried

^ out, and that it ia physically impossible for the firemen to

11 June 19 07 -do it at the present time ? — ^That is my impression.

20833. Because of the extent of the district ? — Because
they cannot do it ; and I do not think the management
insista on their doing it.

20834. [Chairman.) Is there any system by which you
can tell whether a man has examined a road or not 7 Is
he ever obliged to put a chalk mark at the end to show
he has been down that particular road ? — There is no
particular method by which you can detect it that I am
aware of — ^he only chalks the face.

20835. Suppose it was obligatory upon him to chalk
some other part of the roadway to show he had been down
there ? — ^That would be an additional method of detecting
whether he hsid been there or not.

20836. But at the present time there are absolutely
no means of finding out whether a man has been down a
roadway or not ? — ^There are no means of detecting it
in the way you indicate.

20837. {Mr, SmiUie,) If it were compulsory that he
should put the day of the month on each face midway
between the head of the face and the roadway, that would
make it necessary he should visit each roadway in order
to do so ? — ^If he was bound to put a chalk mark at the
beginning of the road where he should enter, and again in
the centre and at the end, that would enable you to detect
it ; but if he has only to put a chalk mark at the entrance,
then he can put it there and pass on to another, and so
pass round the faces.

20838. The chief point is that, so far as your own
personal knowledge goes, and what you have heard from
your own people, the districts are so large that it is im-
possible to do that at the present time ? — ^The reports
we get indicate that clearly.

20839. {Chairman,) I understand you to say on the first
inspection he has not time to do it ?— Just so.

20840. I understand on the second inspection the
fireman might have time to do it ? — Yes ; he is not then
limited to two hours.

20841. {Mr. Smillie,) He is limited on his first inspection
to two hours ? — Yes.

20842. {Chairman.) On his second inspection he may
take as long as he likes about it, and if he chooses on the
second inspection he can go down the roads ? — That is so.

20843. You think as a general rule he does not ? — As
a general rule I think he does not. That is my impression,
but I have no proof of it, however.

20844. {Mr, SmiUie,) If the whole of the time of the
fireman was devoted to the examination of the working
faces and the ventilation, there would be time for making
a thorough examination on the second inspection ? —
Undoubtedly.

20845. Is the whole time of your firemen in Fife, and
Scotland generally so far as you know, devoted to looking
after the ventilation and the roof of the pit and the working
faces ? — No. I have myself heard the firemen state that
they have other duties to perform, such as clearing roads
and putting up timber where repairs were needed.

20846. And sometimes they have to do with getting the
output ? — Regulating the trams and keeping the drawers
going properly, the pony drivers, and so on. and seeing
ikie work goes on regularly. That is part of the duty so
far as my impression goes.

20847. Is it the opinion of the miners that the firemen's
duties should be confined to looking after the safety of the
working, the ventilation, the roof and sides, and so on ?
— That is so, and I think that should be so.

20848. Do you think that if that were made general
in the country there would be fewer accidents than there
are at the prepent time ? — If that were rightly enforced
I think it would have the tendency to decrease accidents.

20849. Let me ask you about the timbering. You are
aware of course that a very large proporftoITof^he accidents
arise from falls of roof and sides. Are you satisfied with
the present system of timbering ? — I am not satisfied.
I think there could be an improvement. When the
systematic timbering was enforced, by the recently Gidopted
Rules, I expected that there would be an improvement as
to accidents from roof falls, but unfortunately that has not
been so. However, I have not lost faith in it. My view
is that ther*^ should be a special class of men either set
aside for the purpose of doing timbering, or seeing that it
is thoroughly done, each man should have a certain district
allotted to him to supervise, and that district should not
be too large.



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20850. Either to put up tne timbering or to see that the
men working at the face put it up in a position which gave
the greatest safety ? — That is so.

20851. You are aware I suppose that a considerable
amount of carelessness exists at the present time amongst
csrtain classes of the workmen at the face ? — ^Undoubtedly |
a good deal of carelessness and a good deal of incompetency. [

20852. The two things, incompetency and carelessness ?
—Yes.

20853. And to some extent that arises from the fact
that the men are paid by piecework, and sometimes take
risks that they would not otherwise take ? — I am sure of
that. Occasionally a man will, in order to get a certain
bit of work done expeditiously, run a little risk, seeing
that his wages depend upon his getting it done as ex-
peditiously as possible.

20854. Then there are three main causes, you think, for
accidents from falls at the face ; incompetency, carelessness
and the risk which men sometimes run in order to got a
certain piece of work done. You think those are the three
main causes of accidents at the face ? — Well, they are three
causes.

20855. Of course there are accidents which will arise
in spite of every precaution ? — Yes ; pure accidents will
occur.

20856. You think that hy having men specially appointed
either to do the timbering or supervise its b«nng done,
many accidents which now occur would be prevented ? —
1 have a strong belief that there would b3 a great improve-
ment if that were done, and it would tend very materially
to reduce accidents from roof falls.

20857. {Dr. Haldar^.) Do you mean a special class of
official in addition to the fireman, or that the fireman
should supervise the timbering ? — If there were a special
class of men for that particular purpose there would not
be so much necessity for the fireman making either one or
two inspections, because they could take that responsibility
But my view is that the particular duty of these men
should be to see that the timbering is properly set, because
I look upon that as being all-important for safety.

20858. {Mr, ShiiUie,) And that would be the duty of the
fireman if his district was small enough to enable him to do
it, in addition to looking; after the ventilation ? — Yes.

20859. {Sir Lindsay Wood.) Should the person whom
you appoint — the deputy or timberman — set the timber,
or merely supervise its being set ? — My suggestion is
alternative ; he could either do one or the other. If it
was considered desirable — and I think it is most desirable —
that he should set the timber, that should be adopted :
but if there was too much opposition to a proposal of that
kind, I think that he should thoroughly and closely super-
vise it.

20860. He should see that the men do it ? — That the men
do it — because I am free to confess that tJiere is still
a lingering feeling, among the old Scotch miners particu-
larly, that they are the best men to set the timber in the
working faces, because they are always there. You might
have opposition from that source, but I think there should
be thorough supervision of that.

20861. {Mr, SmiUie.) Now I will ask you about the
haulage accidents. You are aware that a very considerable
number of fatal and serious accidents arise from haulage ?
— Yes, that is a very prolific source of accidents.

20862. Do you think it is safe to have a haulage road
and at the same time a travelling road — I mean, to allow
the haulage road to be used as a travelling road ? — I
would prefer there should not be any traveUing on the
haulage road ; but if it was impracticable to have that,
then I think there should be sufficient width between the
rails and the sides of the road that the men would be able
to walk absolutely clear of the hutches running, and
possibly having manholes on the same side, in case of
runaways, or anything of that sort.

20863. You suggest that where haulage roads are used
as traveUing roads there should be at all times sufficient
room between the rails and the side to enable men to pass
and repass for travelling purposes ? — That is so, on one
side.

20864. In addition to that, you think it would be
necessary to have the manholes which are compulsory at
the present time ? — I think they should not be done away
with, even supposing that width was provided.

20865. Would you suggest that it should be compulsory
that all manholes should be periodically whitewashed ? —
I think so. These manholes ought to be made as easily



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discernible as possible, and if whitewashed it would help
very materially in my opinion.

20866. Do you know of any system at the present time
in force to prevent runaway trams or hutches, where the
haulBige is done in trains or rakes, causing accidents in the
event of a coupling or drawbar breaking ? — I do not know
of any system in our district which has been adopted
specially ; but we are continually advocating in our
district that there should be what is termed a safety-chain
either below or above the rake of hutches, so that if the
coupling gives way this chain comes into action and so
prevents an accident.

20867. That is a chain attachable at either end to the
rope ? — Yes.

20868. Or, where it is a single road, attachable to the
last hutch and the rope at the other end 7 — Yes.

20869. There have been serious accidents arising from
' such breaks ? — Yes, there have been accidents from that

cause.

20870. Would you be in favour of having runaway
points or slip rails or single haulage ronds, so that in the
event of a rope breaking the hutches would be thrown off



Online LibraryGreat Britain. Parliament Great Britain. Royal Commission on MinesMinutes of evidence taken before the Royal Commission on Mines → online text (page 13 of 177)