North Wakefield, Yorkshire. 22nd April 1959
Those Who Died
The men who lost their lives were:-
- Lawrence Coe aged 38 years, overman
- William Hudson aged 46 years, machine man
- Jack Rothery aged 54 years, belt maintenance man
- Charles Ray aged 53 years, belt maintenance man
- Wilfred Wardle aged 38 years, machine man
- Jack Williams aged 43 years, drifter
The inquiry into the disaster was opened by T.A. Rogers, C.B.E., H.M. Chief
Inspector of Mines and Quarries at the Town Hall in Wakefield on the 29th June 1959 and sat until 3rd July and then again from the 4th to the 12th August. All parties were represented and the report was presented to the Right Honourable Lord Mills, K.B.E., Minister of Fuel and Power on the 11th September 1959.
A full and detailed inspection of the explosion area was made after the event and there was no indication of great violence in the 5’s Unit. Charles Ray’s body was found at the Return Gate Ripping and was the only one who suffered violent injuries. The other four men died from carbon monoxide poisoning and the inhalation of coal dust speeded the deaths of Wilfred Wardle and Lawrence Coe.
All the dead had been burnt but in no case would this alone have been fatal.
Physical damage to the mine was confined to the roof supports and the conveyor belts in the 5’s Unit. Outbye the intake Slit there were few signs of violence. Charred metal and signs of coking suggested that the flame had traversed all parts of the 5’s Unit and the evidence pointed to the explosion occurring at the area of standing props at the end of the 5’s face and the Ribside.
- The known potential igniting agents were ruled out.
- No contraband was found on the men and the cap lamps were in good order.
- There was no shot firing going on at the time of the explosion and there was no heating at the face or of the machinery.
- A sample of the conveyor belting from the Ribside conveyor was found to be anti-static and electrostatic sparking was ruled out as a source of ignition.
- Frictional sparking from the coal cutter picks was a possibility as the Top Haigh Moor seam contained streaks of pyrites but as such sparking was not produced in the undercut, this was also ruled out as a source.
- The electrical equipment at in the 5’s Unit was in good condition with the exception of the gate and switch and a trailing cable which supplied the coal cutting machine.
This cable was examined very carefully and showed signs of arcing at a damaged point.
At the inquiry it was suggested that the damage to the cable could have been caused-
- by an accidental blow from a hand pick
- by a broken wire in the coal cutter haulage rope or
- by a stone, possibly one projected by shot firing.”
The Inspector thought that the last explanation the most plausible and concluded that the arcing from the damaged cable was the source of ignition.
As to the source of the firedamp, the Inspector concluded that the methane had not come from the sandstone floor and the only other source was the underlying Low Haigh Moor Seam and that the emission was likely to be the result for the fireclay forming suitable channels for the gas to travel upwards.
Before the disaster one of the H.M. Inspectors, W.N.H. Carter, had found a break in the floor along side the Ribside and it was possible that there were similar breaks in the inaccessible waste.
The Inquiry concluded that the emission of gas was a heavy seepage from the floor at the fault rather than a sudden outburst. The weak ventilation current was unable to dilute the gas. Dust could have been a factor in the explosion and measures against dust were not taken in working the coal.
The Inspector summarised the conclusions of the report as follows-
- The accident was an explosion of firedamp, initiated at the left hand corner of 5’s Face by an electric arc from a damaged trailing cable of a coal cutting machine. The explosion was propagated to some extent by coal dust.
- The firedamp involved emanated from the Low Haigh Main Seam some 7 feet below and was emitted fairly rapidly, though not suddenly, from floor breaks mainly at a fault.
- The ventilation of the 5’s Unit did not, by standards of good practice, allow a sufficient margin for safety, as a result of defects in short term planning and in execution. There were air leakages so great that the velocity of the air at the left hand corner of the face was not sufficient to deal with any substantial increase in the usual make of firedamp.
- In respect of both choice and maintenance of equipment, insufficient attention was given to precautions against coal dust in 5’s Unit.”
The Inspector made the following recommendations at the end of his report.
- “1). The appropriate development plan for a colliery should show particulars of ventilation, including the means to be adopted for ventilating new workings at each stage of their development.
- At all levels in the industry there should be energetic efforts to overcome the difficulties which are resulting in workmen being reluctant to carry and use firedamp detectors.
- Regulation 7 (5) of the Coal and Other Mines (Ventilation) Regulations, 1956, is technically defective and should be amended.
PRECAUTIONS AGAINST COAL DUST.
- It should be made obligatory to provide stone dust barriers on coal conveyor roads underground.
- Coal cut by machine should be cut ‘wet’.
- A further attempt should be made to devise an electrical protection system that will be capable of eliminating, or at least substantially reducing, the dangers of incendive arcing from a damaged trailing cable.
- Local arrangements should be made between individual managements and H.M. Inspectors to ensure that notice of intention to introduce electricity is given at appropriate stages in the development of an electrical installation.
- Undermanagers should be given legal responsibilities similar to those imposed on the manger by section 10 of the mines and Quarries Act, 1954.”