Mr Warburton on the Healthiness of Coal Mining

February 1882

Mexborough and Swinton Times, February 10.

Mr Warburton on the Healthiness of Coal Mining

Mr Warburton, the manager of the Denaby Main Colliery Company, has been good enough to forward me a pamphlet, containing a lecture delivered by him at Headingley in 1872 and from which I extract the following assertions, which bear on the point to which I referred last week as to the healthiness or otherwise of coal mining:

The coal miners work has been said by numerous writers to be physically detrimental. While this might be true in part, it is not so in the whole. Like all other kinds of Labour, it is in degree healthy or otherwise according to circumstances, and the attention paid to sanitary arrangements underground.

The point on which most writers agree after the analysis of coal mining, is the unnatural position of the body during coal getting operation. Not possessing a diploma as a physiologist, my opinion may be worth little; yet I venture to disagree, in a measure, with these whose stronghold is upon this point.

The body assumes no more unnatural position than a gymnastic teacher would insist on. I shall be met by the reply – all very well; but it is the prolonged unnatural position that does the mischief. This I shall admit, has applied to a small percentage of the labour, which is gradually diminishing, by the adoption of what is known as “long wall working,” in which very little vertical cutting is required. And apart from this, I cannot find any position of the body required that may be considered unhealthy.

Vertical cutting is the only operation in coal getting that necessitates the contraction of the chest. This may easily be proved by taking hold of a walking stick with both hands and striking something with the upper end,  keeping the walking stick vertical. This action continued, I admit is very unhealthy, and has shortened the lives of hundreds of miners. Vertical cutting forms a considerable percentage of the Labour in “strait work,” which is the most exhaustive kind of labour in coal mining.

It is well-known among colliers that a man who begins this kind of work at 21 years of age, is an old man at 30. An expression, indicative of this fact, maybe heard frequently in mining districts. John Jones says to Jones Davies, “Thomas Smith looks an old man.” Jones Davies replies, “Yes; but he is not as old as he looks; he had driven a good deal strait work.”

As strait work diminishes, the physical condition of the coal miner will improve. The atmosphere of a well-managed colliery is far more healthy than that of a woollen or cotton factory, or an iron foundry machine shop, or even many of the town offices, as these are frequently unventilated, whereas the well-managed mine has a constant current of air, fresh from the surface.

It only requires an inspection of the pit ponies, to convince the most sceptical. Though pit horses have not the benefits accruing from the Society for the “Prevention of Cruelty to Animals,” which in  very many cases would be a great boon to them, yet they get fat, their hides become smooth as a mole, & shine like satin.

In a well-managed colliery there is nothing prejudicial to the health of its workers. Nor is there anything in the mine or occupation calculated to induce morally degrading tendencies, but perhaps the reverse, were such influences fostered.