Mining Mortality

By James Barrowman, Mining Engineer.

Presented at the General Meeting of the Mining Institute of Scotland, 9 February 1898

In the writer's paper on "The Health Conditions of Coal-mining" attention was called to the fact that the statistics available for making a comparison between the mortality of miners and that of persons engaged in other occupations were 15 years old.

Within the last few months the Registrar-general for England has issued a report for England and Wales, based on the census of 1891, and bringing the information ten years further down. For the first time the Registrar-General for Scotland has included tables of comparative mortality in his report based on the same census. It is proposed to set forth in this paper the results of these reports, in so far as they give us information relative to the comparative mortality of those engaged in the coal-mining industry. Dr. John Tatham, by whom the figures for England and Wales have been tabulated, is alive to the importance of the subject, and he has (in this last decennial report) added considerably to the information contained in the previous one. The report of Dr. R. J. Blair-Cunynghame for Scotland is made up on similar lines to that for England and Wales of Dr. Tatham's predecessor, Dr. Ogle, and on that account the two reports now to be considered are not in all respects comparable. It may therefore, on the whole, be best to deal with each separately.

England And Wales.
Judging from the improvements that have taken place in the conditions and methods of coal-mining, we should expect these to be reflected in the vital statistics in a lower comparative death-rate, in each succeeding report, whether from accident or from natural causes. We shall compare the last two decennial reports and see to what extent the figures answer these expectations.

With reference to accidents, Table I. shows the number of deaths from various causes at eight different groups of ages in the ten years, 1871-80, while Table II. gives similar particulars for the next ten years, 1881-90, indicating 807 fewer fatal accidents in the latter period.

In 1881, the coal-miners in England and Wales numbered 355,363. In 1891, the number was 482,525. When this large increase of miners is taken into account the decrease in the number of deaths from accident, regarded as a whole, is the more marked. But in looking at of death separately it will be seen that the decrease does not apply to them all. While the deaths per 1,000 in shafts and fire damp show a gratifying decrease, those from falls are increased in number and there is a striking increase in deaths from waggons and tubs. This last increase appears to be due to the more extensive use of mechanical haulage in the later period, and one cannot peruse the annual reports of H.M. inspectors of mines without coming to the conclusion that many of these accidents are the result of recklessness or disobedience, and are largely preventable. This, of course, is true also of accidents from falls, which continue to be notoriously numerous.

The general improvement is set forth in another form in Table III., which shows the mortality of colliers from accidents per 1,000 living, in groups of ages during the two periods referred to. The decrease is most marked in the case of the younger men.

In the compilation of the tables for both of the decennial periods, six different mining districts are distinguished and the particulars given for each separately. In Table IV., these districts are indicated, with the total mortality in each, distinguishing that due to disease and to accident respectively. Confining our observations still to a comparison of the accidents in the two periods, it is gratifying to notice that the decrease which we have seen in the industry as a whole holds good also in the several districts, although in varying degrees, with the exception of the district of Monmouthshire and South Wales, which does not show any improvement. There is a striking difference in the case of Durham and Northumberland which suggests the probability of some error in the figures for the earlier period. The unfavourable position of Monmouthshire and South Wales would appear to point to more dangerous conditions of working or less strict discipline. It may be appropriate to quote the following from the report for the year 1896 of Mr. Robson, H.M. inspector of mines for South Wales :-

I have from time to time in my reports referred to a want of discipline in many of the South Wales mines, and it still seems to me that this is at the root of much of the excess in the accident and death-rates, as compared with most of the other inspection districts.

It is not to be forgotten, that the occurrence of a great explosion in any district affects the death-rate temporarily in that district in a material degree. The Llanerch explosion of 1890 contributes to the high percentage of accidents in the Monmouthshire and South Wales division.

Turning now to the mortality of miners from all causes, we have in Table V. the mortality from 25 to 60 years of age of miners in the several districts, and of males in some other occupations for the three periods 1860, 1861, 1871, 1880-82, and 1890-92.

It is disappointing to observe that the mortality of miners in the last period is on the whole higher than in the period preceding; but when we compare the figures with the corresponding figures in regard to other occupations we find that there is a difference in the same direction, more or less, all through, largely due, it is believed, to the effects of the influenza epidemic in the last three years of the latest period.

Table V. does not show in their true relation the rates of mortality in different occupations, but is substantially correct as regards comparisons of mortality at the three different periods in the same occupation.

Comparing mining mortality with that of other industries, we have the true relation of the different occupations to each other brought out by Table VI. (part 1 and part 2), which shows the comparative mortality of males from 25 to 65 years of age in certain industries for the years 1890-1-2 from all causes, and also from several selected causes. The occupations are arranged in the order of mortality from all causes, beginning at the highest, the figure for all males being 1,000.

As compared with other occupations, that of the coal-miner holds a middle place in mortality from all causes, two of the districts being above and four below the standard of all males. The average of the six districts is 925, while occupied males are 953.

Arranging the different occupations separately, according to the mortality from the various causes given on Table VI. (part 1 and part 2), their relations are altered materially. We naturally turn to accidents as being an outstanding cause of death to miners, and it has to be sorrowfully admitted that the coal-miner stands high in the comparative mortality list as regards accidents; indeed the coal-mining industry of Monmouthshire and South Wales tops the list of all the industries of England and Wales as the most fruitful of accident. Table VII. shows this, and sets forth the comparative mortality in this and a few of the other industries most liable to accident.

But as regards disease, there is no one in which the coal-miner ranks outstandingly high. It was noticed in the paper already referred to that the death-rate among coal-miners from phthisis was exceptionally low, and Table VI (part 1 and part 2) bears this out. Owing to the extremes of heat and cold to which miners are exposed, and the dusty atmosphere in which many of them have to work, diseases of the respiratory system are common. These, next to accident, have the highest place in the death-rate of miners. Comparing these with those of other occupations in which dust or changes of temperature may be held to have a decided influence, we have the order shown in Table VIII., the coal-miner occupying a distinctly favourable place in the list.

The coal-miners of Scotland have not been divided into districts, but are dealt with as a whole, and the shale-miners have been classed along with them.

As already indicated, a comparison cannot be made between the hist and former reports in the matter of comparative mortality, as the former reports do not give the necessary particulars. Our examination of the tables, therefore, will be confined to what they tell us of the duration of life of the miner as compared with men in other occupations at the date stated in the last report.

Table IX. shows the comparative mortality of males between 25 and 65 years of age in several occupations from certain of the commonest diseases and accidents arranged in the order of mortality from all causes, the mean for all males being 1,000.

The figure for the coal- and shale-miner is 978, nearly as favourable (compared with all males) as that for the coal-miner in England and Wales; but the ironstone-miner takes an entirely different position, being near the top of the list on Table IX. and near the bottom on Table VI. (part 1 and part 2) The very different conditions of working in the two countries are no doubt the cause of this wide divergence. The ironstone-workings of England are chiefly in the Cumberland haematite, while those of Scotland are in thin stratified seams.

In the matter of accident, the coal-miner in Scotland occupies a somewhat similar relative position to other occupations that the coal- miner in England and Wales does. This is shown by Table X.

What has already been stated as to the comparative immunity of the coal-miner from phthisis in England is true also for Scotland, as set forth in Table XI., which shows the coal- and shale-miner in the low place of 100, as against 450 for the highest and 64 for the lowest.

The ironstone-miner is outstandingly high in mortality from diseases of the respiratory system, while the coal-miner holds a medium place, as shown on Table XII.

The conclusion that these, the latest reports of the Registrars-general lead to, therefore, is, that while the coal-miner is liable to accident in a greater degree than most other workmen, the occupation is a particularly healthy one; and that as regards mortality from all causes, even including accident, the miner is more favourably situated than the bulk of his fellow men.


Mr. F. J. Rowan asked whether in the reports there was any reference made to workers in whitelead, and whether the rate of mortality as regarded those engaged in the manufacture of gunpowder and explosives was included.

The Secretary believed that "lead-worker" meant a worker in a whitelead work, and the rate of mortality was high. Workers in explosive-manufactories were not shown separately in the tables.

The further discussion of the paper was adjourned.