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Minutes of evidence taken before the Royal Commission on Mines online

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June last there was a serious boiler explosion, one man 17 jujy 1907
being killed and others injured. Everything was in order _

from a plant point of view, and the inspector gave it as
his opinion that the boiler had exploded from want of
water. It was proved that the s toker, who was in charge
of the boiler, had been on duty for 36 hours, and the
manager said that the stoker had volunteered to do the
extra work himself. In my opinion tiie stoker had no
right to work, and the manager should have had no
right to employ him for such a long period. In another
case an accident occurred in connection with the winding
machinery, and one man lost his life. The engineman
in this case had been 20 hours on duty at the time of
the occurrence. Jn another instance, occurring in the
district where I was employed, the winding engineman
had been three shifts on duty when he overwound the
cage, and seven men were killed and one injured. As
matters now stand at the collieries in Scotland, engine-
men have to be on duty 24 hours continuously every
week-end for the purpose of changing the shifts. Can
it be esroected that a man 22 or 23 hours on duty can
efficiently lower the whole of the men employed at the
colliery on a Monday morning ? Until legislation
detUs with this matter accidents must inevitably
occur.

(4) Enginemen have MuUifarioua DiUita to attend to. —
In most of the collieries in Scotland the winding engine-
men have many duties to attend to other than that of
winding. It is quite a common practice in Ayrshire,
and in many pirts of the Lothians and Fifes hire, and
also in many parts of Lanarkshire, for the winding engine-
man, when on night shift, to attend to the firing of the
boilers. In many cases at night there is no one about
the surface of the mines but the engineman, although
there are a considerable number of workmen employed
in the mines. Let me give one or two concrete cases
in illustration of the practice of which enginemen com-
plain. At one colliery in Ayrshire, where there are 60
men in the mine, the engineman has to attend to one
winding engine, one haulage engine, one fan engine, two
tube boilers, to fire and clean the boilers and take away
the ashes. During the day while employed winding
they have to leave the engine-house and go and attend to
the boilers. In this case, as in the others I have
mentioned, the engineman works 10 hours during the
day and 14 hours at night, and during both periods there
is a shift of miners in the mine. In a colliery in Renfrew-
shire, the engineman has at night to attend to the
winding engine, to one fan engine, to one pumping engine,
frequently to a second winding engine, and to fire five
boilers. The Coal Mines Regulation Act provides *' that
the engineman at the pit-head shall during the hours
of his shift, remain in charge of, and so near his engine
as at all times to have it completely and entirely under
his control." Further that ** he shall attend for the
purpose of lowering and raising persons in the mine
during the time when any person is below ground in
the mine." In many cases the engineman has to attend
during the night to two or more winding engines, and
that while men are employed in a different mine on
which these winding engines operate. Under these •

circumstances, and in the circumstances previously
mentioned, it is absolutely impossible for the enginemen
to " remain in charge of and so near his engine as to have
it at all times completely and entirely under his control."
Accidents of the most disastrous kind are possible under
such circumstances. In many cases such a time must
elapse before the engineman leaves the work at which
he is employed and reaches the locus of his other duties
as will make the difference between safety and disaster.
Where miners are working in both pits, as they frequently
are, a long time might frequently elapse before the
engineman could attend to that given signal

I tave not dealt with the exceptions, but have taken
cases which are very common in their respective localities.
The Goal Mines Regulation Act, while it has many
beneficent provisions, is insufficient to deal with the
various aspects of the engineman's responsibilities. If an
engineman objects to the conditions of employment
the master's remedy is an obvious one. He does not
alter the arrangement, but he changes the engine- keeper.
In my experience I have found the Coal Mines Regulation
Act to be often so loosely interpreted that it might
almost have been non-existent

To summarise the conclusions at which I have arrived,.
I would say that in my opinion a great deal can be done
to considerably reduce the number of accidents in con*
nection with the winding machinery at mines. I am

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MINUTES OF EVIDENCE :



Mr.

R, Shirkie,

17JutyJ907.



xX



oonvinced that legislation is required to deal with the
following questions : —

|i (1) Certificates of competency for enginemen and

; firemen.

(2) That only the winding engine should be allowed

, in the engine-house in which it is working.

( (3) That tiie hours of winding enginemen be regulated
by Act of Parliament.
(4) That the Coal Mines Regulation Act should be
amended as only to allow the winding
engineman to attend to the winding engine
during the time that men are employed in
the mine.

27714. {Chairman,) You are Agent and Corresponding
Secretary of the United Engine Keepers' Mutual Protective
Association of Scotland 1 — Yes.

27715. Your Association has nearly 1,900 enginemen,
and covers all the coalfields in Scotland. What proportion
is that of the whole number of enginemen 7 I suppose you
include stokers and persons employed about the engines ?
— We do not include stokers. That is engine keepers.

27716. Whom do you include in you^ Association ? —
Mining engine keepers — pumping, haulage, and electrical.

27717. How many persons altogether who are eligible
for your Association are working in the coalfields of Scot-
land ? I want to find out the proportion of men eligible
for your Association who join. There are 1,900 who join ?
— I expect there is not 5 per cent, outside our Association.

27718. There is another 100 who do not belong to your
Association ? — I should say so.

27719. You think you have 1,900 out of 2,000 in your
Association ? — ^Yes. •

27720. You have been a winding engineman for 18 years
at various coal mines in Scotland, and gold mines in the
Transvaal, South Africa. Do you think you gained any
valuable experience in the Transvaal for mines in Scotland
and other places as regards winding ? — I saw a better
system of working, a safer system.

27721. In what respects ? — Being more guarded by
legislation.

27722. In the Transvaal you are required to have a
certificate ? — Yes.

27723. When you get to the Transvaal the applicants
have to satisfy the Board that they are able first to perform
the ordinary duties of enginemen, and, second, to deal with
such emergencies as may reasonably be expected to arise
in connection with an engineman's employment, including
also a knowledge of the legislation relating to the employ-
ment. It has been suggested before us that it would be
well if there was something in the nature of a certificate
required from enginemen, and that that certificate should
include some examination with regard to the general
knowledge of the working of engines, such, for instance,
as stoking work, and so on. What do you say as to that ?
— I might give you an outline, if you like, of the examina-
tion in the Transvaal.

27724. Yes ? — In the first place you are examined on the
Coal Mines Regulation Act, you are examined as to your
knowledge of your own duties, and the legislation upon
that point. Then there is what is known as a boiler law in
South Africa. There was under the Boer Government,
but I do not know whether there is now. It was a law
relating to boilers, and you have to give satisfaction as to
your knowledge of the boiler law required by the Govern-
ment, such as steam gauges, safety valves, tube water
glasses, and all those kinds of things. Besides that you
are examined on boilers as to cases of emergency, ana as
to different £inds of boilers. You have to satisfy them
with information sa to your knowledge regarding the
boilers in cases of emergency, and legislation, and all that
regarding boilers. Then, coming to the winding engines
you are examined on various winding engines, and they
seem to be practical men on that Board. My opyiion is
that the examination they put you through regarding cases
of emergency and what you would do under certain cir-
cumstances, requires you to have had a very good knowledge
and experience of winding engines. My opinion was that
one who had not been a winding engine keeper and had
not had knowledge and experience in that position could
not have passed it.

27725. Do you think this examination in the Transvaal
sufficiently tests a man's general knowledge of engines
independently of what is required for the purposes of
windoig ? — It was for the purposes of winding, too.

27726. A man may be competent and know how to work
bis winding sngine, know what handles to turn, and so on,



a.nd II



to meet every emergency, but he may not know about the
inward mechanism. Supposing an3rthing went wrong, he
might not know ho-,v to set it right ?— He is examined on
that.

27727. That is part of the examination ?— Yes. To
give an instance, you are asked to state the course of the
steam from the boiler right out through into the air.

27728. You consider that is a model examination, and
if we had an examination for engine keepers in this country
you would take the Transvaal examination as a model ~
xes.

27729. You have acted as a member of the Executive
Council, as President of the Association, and you are now
Agent and Corresponding Secretary. You know pretty
well the views of your Association, and are entitled to
speak on their behalf not only as to your own views, but
the views of the majority of your Association ? — Yes.

27730. You talk about the responsibility of enginemen.
I do not think any of us would deny that the responsibility
is very great. You say in the majority of cases fw a
period of 14 hours and sometimes longer, he requires to
raise and lower men at the collieries. Is that so in the
majority of cases, that he works 14 out of 24 hours in
Scotland ? — Yes ; in Scotland the system of working is
two men to supply 24 hours. As a matter of arrangement,
in order to give the man something like a fair day, he works
10 hours during the day and 14 hours during the night.
It comes about that the night shift man is the man uiat
lowers the miners into the pit ; not only so, but in a good
mauT parts of Scotland, which I have evidence to show, they
stand what is known as the long term, that is, changing
from the day shift to the night shift. They stand at long
term on the Sunday and the Sunday night, and it often
happens they are 23 or 24 hours on duty when they lower
the men to the pit

27731. You suggest that there should be an eight-hours*
day for enginemen ? — Yes.

27732. Three shifts of eight hours, or thereabouts 7 —
Yes, where it was continuous duty. In some pits that is
not required ; the pit can stand eight hours.

27733. Where there is continuous winding up and down
during the whole 24 hours with very slight intermission, no
man ought to work more than an eight-hours' shift. In
some paxts of the day or night there would be more winding
than at other times, and some men might have a nine-
hours* shift and some men a seven-hours' shift ? — That
arrangement is in force in some parts of England, but not
in Scotland.

27734. You suggest that there should be a maximum
of not more than nine or ten hours under any circiun-
stances ? — I would suggest that.

27735. Then you say in many cases persons absolutely
incompetent are appointed to discharge the duties of
colliery enginemen, and in certain instances the appoint-
ment of such persons has been attended with disastrous
and fatal consequences. Then you give some of the acci-
dents. Do you say from your experience of enginemen
in Scotland that a considerable proportion of the men are
incompetent 7 — I say that there are men employed who
are incompetent.

27736. Some ? — In many cases I have known where
they have had to be dismissed.

27737. When they are found to be incompetent they are
at once dismissed 7 — Sometimes. It depends how it suits.

27738. There might be a fatal accident before their in-
competency was found out ? — That is so.

27739. You give an instance of a stoker who had no
knowledge as to working a haulage engine, and nobody
enquired as to his competency, and he was instructed to
work a very important engine, and there was an accident
by which a man lost his life. The jury returned a formal
verdict, but added a rider expressing the opinion that the
company ought to employ a competent man on the haulage
engine. Do you know any other case where a jury have
expressed that opinion, or is that the only case you know
of 7 — It is the only case I have cited because it was a
recent accident. I attended the fatal accident enquiry
about three months ago. It was at Broomrigg, in the
Bonnybridge district.

27740. Could you put in the particulars of the coroner's
inquest 7 — Yes, but I have not it with me to-day. I do
not put much stress on bringing newspaper cuttings to a
Commission such as this, but I can get accurate infor-
mation regarding this case from the Law Courts-

27741. {Mr. SmUlie,) You mean the shorthand notes T
—Yes. I can send them on.



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27742. (Chairman,) We should like to see what the
proceedings were in that case. There was another case
in which there was a dispute at the ooUiery between the
manager and two of the winding enginemen : the engine-
keepers left and the manager of the colliery employed two
men who had not the necessary skill and experience as
enginemen, and an accident resulted. In that case the
engine-keepers 'eft rather suddenly. There was a diffi-
culty ? — ^There was some difficulty with the engine-keepers
and the manager.

27743. The manager had to get the best men he could
at a moment's notice ? — ^No, they have generally 14 days
to work before they can leave.

27744. In this case these engine-keepers gave 14 days*
A ngtice ? — Seven or 14 days. In this case I am persuaoed
1 that the manager engaged these men with the knowledge
I that they were incompetent men.

27745. Because he could not get competent men ? —
That is not so.

27746. In his own interest why should he engage in-
competent men ? — I cannot answer that.

27747. Your belief is that the manager, deliberately
knowing these men were not competent, engaged them
although he might have got, if not absolutely competent
men, much more competent men ? — ^The engine -keepers
and those there knew that they were not competent and
the manager was informed that they were incompetent.

27748. Notwithstanding this information he took the
men on ? — He seemed to say he believed they were
competent. It was a question of his own belief.

27749. You do not suggest that a manager would, as
a general rule, or except in the most exceptional cases,
deHberately take a man on as an engine-keeper whom
he knew not to be competent, when he ( ould get a man
who was more competent 7 — In general cases I believe
that anyone would certainly employ a competent man,
but I Imow there was a time in Lanarkshire, at least,
when there were hundreds of men employed who were
incompetent and many accidents were caused. It was
daring a trade dispute.

27750. That is to say, the competent men gave notice
and left the works ana, consequently, there was a great
difficulty in getting competent men ? — ^That is so.

27751. Secondly, you wish to give evidence as to
the dangerous practice of having other engines, such
as electric, pumping and haulage, placed in the same
engine-house beside the winding machinery. This is
a practice which, you say, is ^coming very common
in Scotland ? — It has always been very common.
It is much more dangerous on account of larger
machinery being put up. I know one place in
Midlothian where there is an electrical engine in the
course of erection to drive the coal-cutting plant below,
and it is placed beside the winding-engine, which means
that the winding-engine keeper looks after that when it
is going. In many places in Scotland they have indicatoi's
from pumping engines right in front of the winding engine-
keeper. The indicator shows that the pump is working
right, and in many cases they have a large bar through
where the keeper has to attend to it at the same time as
he is working his winding-engine. My own brother, in
Blantyre, has an electrical engine and the engine went
away rather quick, something went wrong with the
governor, while he was letting down the men in the morning.
He went to put it right, but went back the wrong way
in the excitement of the moment. There were no men
injured, but there might have been eight men killed.

27752-3. You think it is difficult for an engine-
man to carry out his duties satisfactorily if there
are other engines m iLe same place 7 — Yes. I do not
know about England, but in Scotland, so far as the Coal
Mines Regulation Act is concerned, it is not in any sense
observed. I read in the Ck)al Mines Regulation Act as
regards winding enginemen : " The enginemen at the pit-
head shall, during the hours of his shift, remain in charge
of and so near his engine as, at all time, to have it com-
pletely and entirely under his control." It is quite
common in Ayrshire and the Lothians and many places in
lianarkshire and Fifeshire where engine-keepers have to
fire the boilers, clean the fires and take away the ashes
and attend to various other engines. The winding of
the engine seems to come in as a secondary consideration.
That is where there are men in the pit. I know in Scotland
where they have to leave men in the shaft and attend to
other engines.

27764. You refer to an accident happening where the
engineman did not receive the proper signal or, rather,



a1 accident it
ling is not 1 1
ccident 7 — ^V



did not respond to it owing to the noise of the machinery 7
— I gave these instances because they were of recent date.
The fatal accident enquiry in this case has not come off
yet. I was apprised of the accident and went to see it.
The pit-headman and engineman say the bell did signal,
but the bottom-man before he died said he did not pull
the bell, and the man with him said so too.

27755. Before long we shall have an official account
of that enquiry 7 — Yes. My experience is that these
official accounts never touch the real crux of the matter.
It is generally a formal verdict that is given. What
I have suggested here is a thing so common that they
will not pay any extra attention to it. A pumping engine
is thundering on beside that winding engine which drives
the washer at the pit head. The engine-keeper has to
pay attention to that engine besides putting up with the
noise. Then this accident happened and I went up to see
the engine going, but I could not say whether a signal
was given or not unless I was watching it.

27756. Do you mean to say that these fatal accident
enquiries are not carried out as they ought to \)e 7 — I
mean to say they are not properly looked into as they
ought to be or this would not be possible.

27757. Do you mean to say that when a fatal accident
happens and you have an enquiry that every thin
brought out with regard to the cause of the accid
Yes, I believe that.

27758. You are dissatisfied with the enquiries under the
Fatal Accidents Inquiry Act 7 — Yes ; I am dissatisfied
with it so far as making recommendations and looking
into the' real matter are concerned. A formal verdict I
believe will be returned in this case. It may not, but
that is going according to precedent and that is what I
look for,

27759. That is a very serious matter. Under the new
Act " The Jury shall state the cause or causes of such
accidents or death or deaths, the person or persons, if any,
to whose fault or negligence the accident is attributable,
the precautions (if any) by which it might have been
avoided, any defects in the system or mode of working
which contributed to the accident, and any other facts
disclosed by the evidence which, in the opinion of the
Jury, are relevant to the enquiry." If those statutory
provisions are carried out, surely you would have a com-
plete enquiry 7 — Not very long ago, at Houldsworth in
A3^8hire, there was held* the first fatal accident enquiry
under this Act, which I attended. Two men lost their
lives and two were injured. It was on account of the
water coming in from the boiler. The engine-keeper had
been 13 hours on duty when this took place, but the
stoker seems to have let the boiler get too full of water, and
the dirty water came in from the boiler and blocked up
the valves so that the engine-keeper could not control
them. The cage went away and landed on the bottom
and he was unable to put of! his steam when it landed, and
that brought away the cage and killed the men. The
cause of these men losing their lives I heard read out was
that the cage was lifted away. You have to go further
back than that to find out how this could be prevented.
The immediate cause is one thing and the causes that
contribute to the thing are another.

27760. You say the first enquiry imder this Act was
not carried far enough in your opinion ? — I think it should
have been carried further.

27761. You consider the finding of the jury did not
give an adequate explanation of the whole of the causes
which led to the accident 7 — It did not give any explana-
tion at all of the causes that led to the accident.

27762-3. It seems to me that the provisions of the Act are
not carried out if that is so. If the Act is properly carried
out it would be the duty of the jury to go into all these
matters, and these matters ought to be brought out at the
enquiry 7 — In my opinion the matters are not looked
into as they ought to be, and the recommendations are
not made as they ought to be at these enquiries. Formal
verdicts are returned.

27764. Can you suggest any improvement in the Act of
Parliament which will set that right 7 It seems to me that
the provisions are very stringent ? — I do not know so much
regarding the recent Act ; the former Act, at any rate.

27765. This enquiry which you say was not exhaustive
was under this last Act 7 — Yea.

27766. Can you suggest any improvement of the Act of
Parliament ? — My suggestion would be that the jury
should enquire into the contributory causes and the
environment and the reason these things can take place.
We know how the accident happened, through the cage

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Mr.
R, Shirhie.

17Jui^ld07.



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MINUTES OF EVIDENCE !



Jfr.
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beiag lifted away. The verdict was that the cage failed to
stop when it went to the bottom. Anyone knows that ;
but why did it fail to stop ? What were the circum-
stances at the time 7 If these had been taken note of it
would have thrown some light on the matter.

27767. {Mr. Batcliffe Ellis,) Were you present at that
enquiry ? — ^Yes.

27768. Did you offer any evidence ? — I was there on
behalf of the Association, and I cross-examined the
witnesses.

27769. {Chairman.) You brought aU these matters out
in your cross-examination ? — Yes, I brought out as many
as I could.

27770. The jury took no notice of them ? — Regarding
the manager, I asked how long the engine-keeper was on
duty, and he said 13 hours. This question was refused
at first, but the judge ruled that he should answer it. I
asked, *' Did he not think that had something to do with
the accident," but counsel for the company said that
if I suggested that I gave my case away. I say an engine-
keeper who has been on duty for 13 hours, although he
may not cause that accident, is not in a position to prevent
it, as he would be if clearer and more able.

2777L {Mr. Ratcliffe EUia.) Had you the opportunity
of saying all that you wished to before the jury ? — Yes.

27772. You took advantage of thftt ? — ^I took advantage
of it.

27773. (Chairman,) And the jury apparently in their
finding ignored a good deal of what you said. That is,
they (&d not refer to some of the evidence you gave which



Online LibraryGreat Britain. Parliament Great Britain. Royal Commission on MinesMinutes of evidence taken before the Royal Commission on Mines → online text (page 74 of 177)