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Minutes of evidence taken before the Royal Commission on Mines online

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the road before they could be run far down ? — I think
that would be an excellent thing if it could be put into

20871. Now as to the question of colliery enginemen.
Are you aware that during the past 20 years the number
of men allowed to ride in cages in large collieries has
considerably increased ? — That is so.

20872. I think it is admitted that there is a greater
strain on engine- winders to-day, because of the largely
increased output, than there was some years ago. I want
your opinion about that ? — That is undoubted.

20873. {Sir Lindmy Wood.) In Scotland ?— In Scotland.

20874. (Mr, SmiUie.) In consequence of the output
having largely increased at the larger collieries there is a
greater strain on the engine-winders now than there was
some years ago at the smaller collieries ? — ^That is so.

20875. At the present time, in many of tha large colli-
eries in Scotland, the engine -winder is from eight to ten
hours at his engine handle with a break of from 15 to 20
minutes ? — In our particular district I think it runs from
20 minutes to half an hour during his winding time. I
should say he is there about nine hours, because it includes
the winding of men and coal.

20876. And he has not half a minute's rest during that
time except the 20 minutes' break ? — ^That is so. At one
of our collieries which I had in my mind just now the
engineman has not a minute, but is continuously winding.

20877. I believe you have no fault to find with the class
of men who are enginemen generally all over the country ?
— ^They are a pretty good class of men so far as my know-
ledge goes.

20878. Steady and temperate and skilled in their par-
ticular employment ? — That is so.

20879. 'But there are accidents arising sometimes from
a sudden weakness — heart affection or something of that
sort suddenly overcoming the engine-winder ? — I have not
had experience in our district of a case from that particular
cause, but I have heard of it. I can quite conceive it
possible that a man may get suddenly ill and be incapable
of attending to his engine when the men are riding in the
shaft and I have always held that, during the time when
the men aie being drawn up or lowered, there should be
two men at the engine handle, so that there should be
no accident of that kind.

/ 20880. Would you be favourable to the engine-winders
^ holding a certificate of competency ? — I should.

20881. Do you think that is necessary ? — I think it
y would be a guarantee of his competency, the same as I

would insist upon a manager having a certificate, or a
fireman having a certificate.

20882. Is that your opinion that an engine- winder should
have no other work to do but to attend to his engine ? — I
think so.

20883. At the present time he is not confined absolutely
to that ? — I understand his duties include attending to
the boilers as well which may take him away from his
handle — that is, to go out of the engine room and see that
the boiler is all right. I do not mean to say that it is the
case in places where there is continuous winding, because
that is not possible, but one instance occurs to me just
now where an engineman has to go and fire his engine such

as I have seen in my younger days where the output was

20884. (Mr. Ratdiffe EUis. ) But there have been improve-
ments during the last 30 years, ^Ir. Weir ? — Yes, there have
been great improvements in that sort of thing since I was
working in a mine.

20885. (Mr. SmiUic) Have you a large number of un-
skilled workmen in the mines in Fife ?— I think we have a
good few. We have importations from other districts
which seem to be getting more numerous than ever. A
very interesting census was taken by one of our managers
a few months ago of that particular matter.

20886. (Mr. Raidiffe EUis.) Was that the census which
was put before the Eight Hours Committee ? — Yes ; that
was very interesting. He employed 1,398 men, and out
of that number 450 were drawn from other trades and
occupations, so that that was about one-third of the people
employed — a large percentage. The rest of the men
employed in that mine were those who, on leaving school,
had started to work in the mines.

20887. (Mr. SmiUie.) And thone 460 had entered the
mine at various stages ? — That is so. I do not mean to
say that those men would all be employed at the face.

20888. Are there any figures given as to the number
employed at the coal face ? — No, there is no indication of

20889. You are aware that there is a Rule in the Mines
Act which is supposed to prohibit the employment of any
person at the coal face who has not previously had two
years' practical experience under a practical miner ? — Yes.

20890. Is that Rule generally carried out in Scotland ?
— I cannot say. We try to insist upon it, but we cannot
tell whether it is carried out or not We have no way of
detecting it.

20691. Do you think it is a wise provision ? — I think it
is, and we fought for it in the House of Commons.

20892. In the interests of safety ? — ^Yes, in the interests
of safety.

20893. If it is wise to prevent an unskilled person work-
ing alone at the coal face, would it be intelligent to aUow
three or four or more unskilled persons to work together ?
— ^That is only increasing the evil. I think it would be a
most dangerous thing to do that.

(Chairman.) Do I understand that your objection is to
unskilled persons working at the face at all, or only to
working without any skilled supervision ? Supposing
you have a skilled man supervising two unskilled workmen
at the face, is that what you would consider safe ?

(Mr. SmiUie.) We have no objection to unnkilled
persons at the face if under the supervision of a skilled
person, but it lends itself to this : we have cases where
there are 12 or 14 foreign workmen at the working face
under the charge of one person. You will have evidence
of that.

(Chairman.) What would you consider would be a
reasonable proportion ?

(Mr. SmiUie.) We do not object to one skilled person
taking one unskilled man with him to learn.

(Witness.) 1 think one unskilled person in a working
face is quite sufficient to look after.

20894. In the Scotch mines we have a different system
from what exists in England. It is largely the practice in
Scotland for the lads to go to the working face with their
fathers when they leave school ? — ^That is so. That is
quite a common thing.

20895. We call a skilled Scotch miner a person who
has been brought up at the colliery from 13 or 14 years
of age ? — That is how it is looked upon.

20896. That is pretty generally the case ?■— Yes. At
our colUeries the young people go in with their fathers and
gradually learn to become miners. They also go with
other men as well, not only their fathers.

20897. (Sir Lindsay Wood.) You say that there are
only two District Inspectors in Scotland and four Assistant
Inspectors ? — Yes, that is so.

20898. Do you know what number of men they have
under them ? — I think they have about 127,455, including

20899. Do you think that the district is too large for so
few inspectors ? — ^Yes, I think so.

20900. Would you advise the districts being divided and
having more District Inspectors ? — I have never applied my

Mr. J. Weir.



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II June 1907

Afr. /. Weir, mind to that point. What we aim at is to have an in-
creased staff of Inspectors who will be subject to these two.
I have never thought of dividing Scotland up into any
smaller districts thui what they are now.

20901. Do you think it would be an advantage to have
more District Inspectors ? — I do not say that it would be a
disadvantage. For example, if we had a staff for Fife only,
which is now getting a large colliery, it would be easy to
get at the collieries instead of their living away from the
colliery, and it requiring some time before it can be reached ;
I think that would be a good thing.

20902. You recommend one Inspector for every 10,000
men ? — For even less than 10,000 men. That is what our
Bill is.

20903. That would mean that you would require a great
increase in their number? — We should require double
the staff that we have now.

20904. You would require more than that. You liave
six now, altogether ?

(Mr. SmiUie.) We have only six for every 127,500.

(Witness.) We should require fully double the number.

20905. {Sir Lindsay Wood.) How long an interval would
be required to get round the mines if the inspections were
made as you deem they should be made T — I could not
form an estimate of that. The Government Inspectors
would be the best parties to give you some indication as
to that, but judging by the inspection that is made now,
when they can only make an inspection once a year of
every colliery, and that a very incomplete one, it seems to
me, by doubling the inspectorate, that you could not get
them to make the inspection once in six months sufficiency.

20906. Not if their whole time is occupied now. That
is a matter of arithmetic ? — Precisely.

20907. I understand that you want to have these in-
spections made much more frequently than once in six
months ? — ^I would be satisfied if there was a fixture for
making them at least once in six months, and, in cases of
emergency, I think it is desirable that they should be made
between those periods.

20908. That would not be examining the places through-
out the whole of the mine. That would only be doing the
work which they are practically doing now ? — ^That would
be a considerable improvement upon the present system,
of course, and it remains to be seen whether that would be

20909. You say that Rule 38 has not been acted upon in
Scotland ?— Very little.

20910. What is the real reason for that ? — I explained to
Mr. Smillie that fear of giving offence to the employer was
one reason. The men do not care to go into the mine of
their employer and make a report that he might feel
offended at, especially if they found any defects. The
other reason I gave Mr. Smillie was that in the past, when
these reports have been made, so seldom has a defect been
commented upon, the idea has got abroad that there is no
use in having the inspection made, seeing that there is no
practical result.

2091 1 . In some districts they do make these inspections ?
— I heard recently that they were making them in Lanark-

20912. I mean throughout En^^and, not Scotland ? —
I do not know what they do in England.

20913. We do not find that there is any conflict between
the Managers and the men where they do make them ? —
I cannot speak of these districts, and I am not aware of
anything arising out of them.

20914. You cannot give us any experience of these
inspections under Rule 38 ? — Not so far as England is

20915. Nor Scotland, because you say that you have
never had any mside ? — I said the last that we had in our
district was in 1899.

20916. That is practically none 7— Well, that is so. I
may mention that when that inspection was made it was
reported to us that the mine was in a very bad condition
both as to the ventilation and as to general safety, and the
parties who made the complaint were eventually appointed
to make that inspection, which took some four or five days
to accomplish, with the result that a most favourable
report was made as to the condition of the mine. That

i gave rise to the notion among the men who appointed
^ them that they hsid not efficiently examined the mine or
given a fair or proper report.

20917. {Mr. Ratdiffe Ellis.) Who made that inspection ?
— Two of the workmen.

20918. At the mine ? — Yes. The men who made the
complaint were men who were working in the mine, and
they were the men who were appoint^^L The two chief
complainers were the men appointed to make the

20919. {Mr. SmiUie.) And they found everything was all
right ?— Yes.

20920. {Dr. Haidane,) Was tiiere any good reason for
believing that there was anything wrong ? — They made
plenty of noise about it beforehand ; I do not know. It
is rather strange that everything was right after they had
such a strong complaint to make about it a few weeks

20921. {Sir Lindsay Wood.) Under Rule 38 it seems to
me that you get the men most acquainted with the oollieiy,
and those men ought to know the defects of the colliery, to
make the report rather than outside men ? — I understand
that they are the men employed at the colliery and most
acquainted with it.

20922. If you want to have more inspectors appointed,
why do you not take advantage of the rule which gives
power to inspect ? — We want more inspection paid for by
the Government. Having had the experience that we have
had of Rule 38 we think it is now obsolete, and that some-
thing better should take its place.

20923. It cannot be obsolete if you do not act upon it ;
in fact you have hardly tried it — It has lapsed ; it has gone
into disuse, practically.

20924. Then with regard to the appointment of firemen,
you think that they ought to have a certificate ? — Yes, I
think so.

20925. Do you think that in Scotland that they are not
appointed from the best men ? — I am certain that they are

20926. It must be a matter of judgment, because surely
the manager appoints the best men he can get ? — I have
given you two cases which have come under my personal
knowledge, which clearly prove that they are not the best
men who have been appointed.

20927. There are certain to be exceptions to every
rule, but do you say that of the whole number which
you must have in Scotland ? — I do not mean to say that
they are all the worst men that are appointed, but as a
general rule I do not think that the situation of fireman is
made as attractive as it ought to be ; I mean with regard
to remuneration and other things, so that it would draw the
best class of men to apply for such jobs.

20928. Does not the example you gave of the fireman
being underpaid as compared with the hewer apply more
to where the wages of the hewer are extra high ? — I do not
think it does ; I think it applies even when the wages are
what may be termed at an ordinary point.

20929. Is the ordinary standard wage for firemen less
than for hewers ? — Yes, in some places.

20930. Is it so in many places ? — I would not like to say
a great many.

20931. Is it not the general practice that they are paid
higher 7 — I do not think so.

20932. In Scotland 7 — Not in my experience.

20933. {Mr. SmiUie.) Is it not universal that they are
paid lower 7 — That is so.

20934. That is universal, all over Scotland 7— No, I
would not say universaL I know that some are paid
6s. 6d. a day in our own county.

{Mr. SmiUie.) Hewers are earning more than that.

{Sir Lindsay Wood.) Is the normal wage of the hewer
more than 6s. 6d. a day 7

{Mr. SmiUie.) The fireman's wage falls and rises with the
hewers, so that keeps them in the same position.

20935. {Sir Lindsay Wood.) You think that they ought
to pass an examination 7 — Yes, I think so. I would not
make it a very stiff examination, but I think that they
ought to pass some kind of examination. I think that it
would be conducive to safety, and the passing of an
examination would also give confidence to itte men in the
discharge of their duties. I also think that it would add
to their efficiency, as it would enforce dis ipline in the
mines. The men would respect them more, and they
would take their word more readily if they were looked
upon as being a class of superior workmen.


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20936. In Scotland you say that the firemen are used by
the owners for getting the coal away. To what extent is
tiiat done ? — It is quite common for the firemen to look
after the tubs and trams in order to see that they are kept
going regularly, and if there is any hitch in that depart-
ment he is supposed to have it put right and get matters
put in order again.

20037. That would be in the working faces ? — No, on the

20938. Do you mean the main haulage roads ? — ^The
haulage roads and pony roads, and drawing roads and

20039. You mean up to the hauling station, not on the
main haulage road going to the shaft ? — ^In a general way
he would overlook all that was within his district.

20940. The meaning of that is that his whole time is not
occupied at the face of the workings ? — Certainly not.

20941. It is the practice in Scotland for the men to set
the timber ? — That is so.

20042. The fireman does not interfere with it, excepting
when he sees that it is wrong ? — ^Where he sees that the
men are not timbering their places as they ought to, or
according to the rule Uid down, he instructs them to put
them ri^t.

20943. He does not do it himself ?— No.

20944. Do you think that he ought to do it 7—1 did not
say that the fireman ought to do it, because that would
increase his duties as a fireman ; but if there was a special
staff of workmen appointed for that purpose they should
do that, with a district allotted to them, as I have stated.

20945. A special staff of men to do nothing but the tim-
bering ? — Yes.

20046. In that event you would still require the hewer
and the man at the face to set his own timber to protect
himself if something occurred while the deputy was not
there ? — Certainly. Common sense dictates that a man
would look after his own head and safety.

20947. It does not always do that ?^Well, I expect it
should do.

20948. With respect to haulage, have you many mines
in Scotland where there are separate travelling roads ? —
No, I do not think that we have many ; I do not know of
any in our district.

20949. Are they old mines ? — ^We have old mines and
very modem mines, too.

20950. Have you many heavy incline engine haulage
roads ? — Yes.

20951. Are they on the level ? — No, they are inclined.

20952. Both from the shaft and to the shaft 7— Yes.

20953. Have you many accidents upon these 7 — We
have a good many haulage accidents in Fife. I think
that we have a full share of the haulage accidents, for this
reason : we have considerably deep workings. The wheel
braes are numerous, which lends itself to considerably
increased chances of accidents, and I think that they
produce as many of these accidents as any county ; I mean
in proportion to its size. We have them driving to the rise
one single drift going where these wheels are absolutely
necessary owing to l£e steepness, and they shift it from
time to time as the workings recede.

20954. That system is rather more dangerous than
ponies ? — ^Yes.

20955. That is the reason that you get more accidents 7
— ^Yes. In connection with these braes where accidents
have occurred they have arisen in this way : the boy or
man at the bottom of these braes, particularly these single
braes where they supply one face, does not take the trouble
to put mouth plates or pointers at the bottom, but just
have the rails squarely set, and the party at the foot of the
brae has to watch when they start the wheel to guide
these empty hutches on to the rails, and when a runaway
takes place if the man at the bottom forgets anything,
that is to say forgets to couple his hutch on, this hutch
comes down like a shot, and we have had several fatal
accidents in consequence of that, whereas if these pointers
were on, it would require the man to put the hutch there
and couple it on and withdraw it, and it would take the
rails itself. I think that should be made compulsory.

20956. It would be a very difficult provision to put
into an Act of Parliament, but I should think that every
mining engineer would do it for his own good 7 — It is a
very simple thing and gives the man an opportunity of
withdrawing out of danger.

20957. Do you think that many accidents occur in Mr. J.
consequence of this 7 — We have had one or two accidents
purely on accoimt of that.

20958. You do not have endless ropes ; I suppose it is
too steep 7 — I do not know of any encUess ropes in Fife.

20959. They are only used on the flat 7— Yes.

20960. There are much less accidents with them because
they go slowly 7 — I should fancy that they were not so
liable to accidents on flat workings.

20961. I think you recommend that there should be
some shortening in the hours of the winding enginemen 7
— I think that the enginemen should not be engaged more
than 8 hours at the very most.

20962. You do not have many accidents in your district 7
— We have many winding accidents. We have had one
quite recently which resulted fatally, caused by a bit of
wood going down the shaft and killing a man in the shaft.
That happened with a young engineman.

20963. I see by the Return that there are only three
fatal accidents and four men killed in 10 years from over-
winding 7 — In Scotland 7

20964. Yes. — ^This accident happened last year or the
beginning of this year, but I could not exactly fix the

20965. There is not much room for improvement ;
there are other places where we get more. Do you
say that the engineman went away to fire his boilers 7
— ^No ; that used to be the custom when the output was
very small ; he attended to the firing of the boilers as
well as attending to the engine, but where the output
is large that is not possible. He has, however, sometimes
to go out of his engine on to the top of the boiler to see
how the boilers are keeping, to see to the feeding and what

20966. His attention cannot be constant durmg tixe time
that he is away 7 — ^That is so. I think that an engineman
should be entirely confined to the winding of the engine,
and that his attention should be devoted lo that entirely.

20967. Whether he has other work to do or not. Sup-
posing he is only winding a few times in an hour 7 — That
18 a different thing sltogether.

20968. It is a question of degree. It depends entirely
on the degree 7 — Of course I would not say that a man
should stand idle altogether. I am speaking now of when
they are running at a high pressure speed, and then I say
there should be a provision that a man should not be
allowed to go away from his engine.

20969. Are there any engines running with two engine-
men 7 — Yes.

20970. Those are running at a very high tension 7 —

20971. Is it the practice, where they are pumping
underground, for the engineman to keep his boiler going
as well 7 — [ could not venture an opinion upon that.
When they are pumping underground my impression is
that they get the steam from the top, but I think that
electricity is now taking the place of steam for work of
that kind.

20972. That is now being done 7 — I believe so.

20973. {Mr. Ratcliffe Ellis,) What is your view as to
the object of Government inspection in mines 7 — My view
is a very simple one. It is that they should visit the
collieries and see that the management is carr3ring out all
the operations in conformity with the Coal Mines Regula-
tion Act and the Special Rules, and general safety I should

20974. It is quite impossible, I think, that there should
be any system of Government inspection (I will refer to
Rule 38 afterwards) day by day 7—1 do not suppose
that we would ask for that.

20975. To carry it to an extreme length, you would wish
that day by day there should be some security that the
Coal Mines Regulation Act was being carried out in every
mine 7 — I did not say so, because I believe that to be,
so far as Government inspection is concerned, impracticable.

20976. Then we agree there. How near do you think
you that can get to that 7 The idea would be to see
that in every mine every day the Coal Mines Reflation
Act was being carried out. Vou admit that it is impossible
to get that from Government inspection 7 — We are not
askmg for that.

20077. You agree with me that it is impossible. I want
to know how near you can get to that 7 — We have, through

11 June 1007

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Mr. J, Weir, our Mines Bill, asked for a Goyemment Inspector for each
10,000 men employed in and about the mines. We think
if the inspectorate was increased to that extent it would
improve matters.

20978. That would mean about 80 inspectors instead of
about 40, as at present ? — ^Well, suppose it did ?

20979. What do you expect you would get from these

Online LibraryGreat Britain. Parliament Great Britain. Royal Commission on MinesMinutes of evidence taken before the Royal Commission on Mines → online text (page 14 of 177)