Ashton-in-Makerfield, Lancashire. 12th November, 1932
Shots were fired in the coal by duly appointed shotfirers during the morning and night shifts and by the firemen during the afternoon shifts. The explosive, Hawkite No.2, was supplied free to the colliers who took it underground in locked canisters. Only the shotfirers had a key. The roads in the pit were dusted with carbonate of lime, between three and four pounds of this dust being spread per ton of coal drawn. The No.12 Level from No.5 Brow to the shunt at No.8 Brow was so treated on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday the 8th, 9th, and 10th November before the explosion. Three samples which were taken along the No.12 Level between No.5 Brow and No. 8 Brow from the floor, roof and sides contained 45, 9 and 19 percent of combustible matter respectively, while three samples taken from between Nos.8 and 9 Brows on that level showed 66 per cent of combustible matter in the sample taken from the floor, and 60 per cent in the samples taken from the roof and sides. The results of the tests showed that it was only in the area on the inbye side of the No.8 Brow that dust comparatively high in combustible matter was found after the explosion.
The manager, underlooker, firemen and shotlighters used ‘Protector’ flame safety lamps and the leading collier in each working place was provided with a similar lamp for gas testing purposes. He also had an "Oldham" electric lamp and this type of lamp was used by all other workers underground. The shaft siding to the top of the No.2 Brow was lighted by fixed electric lights. Two of the eight persons making each cage load were searched at the surface for matches and other prohibited articles and every person was again searched at the shaft bottom.
An electrical haulage engine was placed near to the No.9 shaft bottom for working the endless rope haulage to the South Level and South Brow. All other haulage engines in the mine are driven by compressed air. Two that were situated on the rise side of the
South Level hauled the sets of tubs up the No.2 and No.5 Brows by the main rope.
One, situated on the North side of No.5 Brow opposite the entrance to No.12 Level in No.5 Brow district worked a single track endless rope haulage along that level. The return wheel was fixed some 18 to 20 yards beyond the top of the No.8 Brow. There were also, in that district, on the high side of the No.12 Level, small hauling engines at the top of Nos.7,8,and 9 and 9A Brows for hauling the full tubs up those brows.
Signalling on all the mechanical haulage roads was by means of electrical bells except in No.7 and 9 and 9A Brows. The battery in each circuit consisted of several Leclanche cells and the conductors were of galvanised iron wire and the other copper covered with vulcanized rubber. Pushes were provided at places from which signals had, or might have to be given and it was intended that the signals should be given only by means of these pushes. Detailed inspection made after the explosion by Mr. James Cowan, Junior
Electrical Inspector of Mines, found that the conductors in the No.5 Brow, which were not affected by the explosion showed many bare places on the conductor which should have been covered. About ten of these bare places occurred where joints he been made, but the remainder, about 60, were bare for about two and a half to three inches with the insulating material at each end of the bare part with clean cut edges. These appeared to have been made deliberately in order that signals might be given by bridging the conductors. This appeared to have been the practice, as Mr. Cowan found only two pushes on this brow and one of these had no cover. He also found insulation missing on the No.12 Level.
In the No.12 Level engine haulage room Mr. Cowan saw a "Wigan Gastight" bell which was in circuit with the conductors that led along the level and the casing of this bell was broken and held on by a joiner’s wood screw. The battery consisted of three Leclanche cells connected in series to the bell push. A push on the No.12 Level near the entrance to the level was a water tight push as manufactured but the cover was missing and thus the contacts within the push exposed. Mr. Cowan examined the electrical signalling apparatus in the No.8 Brow and found parts were torn down and there was no bell push at the bottom of the brow and bared wires as be travelled down the brow. With regard to the condition of the conductor which was intended to be covered it was recorded that William Ackers, whose duties were confined to the care of the signalling units and telephones in the mine said that pushes were installed at 30 to 40 yard intervals and it would not have been possible, to his knowledge, to give signals other than by using a push. He said he knew of no bare places on the covered conductors and that he had never seen a push without a cover. He said that the bell at the hauling engine at the top of the No.8 Brow was a "Wigan 1920 bell" with a battery of eight three pint Leclanche cells. This was corroborated by Arthur Holland who drove the engine during the morning shift.
Holland said that he had sometimes had to go down the No.8 Brow sometimes because the signal wires had got crossed and the bell kept ringing. This occurred about twice a week and he had to go down the brow and uncross the wires and he put a road nail underneath the insulated wire to keep it in its place. This was always at the same place and the fireman on his shift, William Marsh, heard the bell ringing continuously just as he had and when this had occurred. Marsh thought that wires were crossed and sometimes Marsh had told him to have a look. Marsh said that this had occurred. Albert Tootle, who drove the hauling engine working the endless rope haulage on No.12 level, said the bell at that engine sometimes rang continuously. He acknowledged that the push might be sticking but as soon as a boy was sent to remedy the situations, the bell ceased to ring.
William Maltby, assistant electrician at the No.9 Colliery gave evidence that he had seen pushes occasionally without their covers and had seen places where the insulation had come off. He agreed with Mr. Cowan that were only two pushes on No.5 Brow and that there were places where the insulation was missing but he did not agree that either of the two pushed was without a cover. Mr. Maltby said that about two pushes about a fortnight came out of the mine for repair, usually a new cover or new screws. The reason that the screws were missing was that people stole them and covers went astray because if a push was sticking people took the cover off in order to signal more easily. He added that these incidents were reported to the manager.
Mr. Ralph Brown, electrician at the No.9 Colliery, who had been at the colliery for fourteen years, said that when he came, both the conductors in the signalling wires were bare and that the change to insulated ones. Bells with metal cases were introduced at the same time, these complied with the regulations. He disclaimed any responsibility for the signalling system underground but he received three or four times a week reports from William Ackers and from the firemen of missing covers. He regarded this as a serious matter both from a safety and an expense point of view. He had a serious discussion about it with the manager and the undermanager.