Originally, my intention was just to research the miners' social welfare. It soon became apparent that the miners' health was an important factor in any social or leisure activities that the miners may wish to take part in. If a miner suffered from a chronic condition, such as a respiratory problem, he would hardly be able to partake in any physical activity that the miners' welfare fund provided. Indeed he may not even be able to go to any of the miners' clubs because of the smoky atmosphere.

There were many accidents, some small, others that were major catastrophes. Some were left with permanent disabilities, and many lost their lives. Gas was another problem that the miners faced, whether it was with gas poisoning or by explosions. Other hazards were more insidious, such as industrial diseases. So in this article I will look at the illnesses that coal miners could get, due to the nature of coal mining and the conditions and environment in which they worked.

In Diseases of Occupations, by Donald Hunter he states that early in the nineteenth century the morbid anatomists of Paris described melanosis of the lungs. In 1819 Laennec clearly differentiates secondary melanatic carcinoma of the lungs as the pulmonary matter that was deposited in coal miners' lungs. But the first author to record in print that the disease arises out of employment in coal mines was Gregory in 1831. His patient was a Dalkeith collier who had worked in the coal pits for twelve years.
Various opinions at the time were held as to the causation of the disease, but in the main it was attributed either to be the effects of blasting with gun powder, or to the inhalation of lamp black, or soot from the oil lamps of the miners.
In 1833, Marshall of Cambuslong, near Glasgow published details of three men; all had worked about 50 years as coal miners. In two of them the symptoms culminated in the expectoration of material black as printers ink. This black spit corresponded to a necropsy picture of lungs with jet black nodules and cavities, the expectoration increasing in quantity as the destruction of the lungs advanced. Marshall rejected all previous views as to the origin of the black material and stated that the inhalation of fine coal dust and its deposition was the cause. The substance in the lung was the cause of Spurious Melandosis or Phtisisotica. He considered that though there was an individual predisposition to the disease, dustiness in certain mines where there was hard dry seams and much pick work took place, was what caused the disease.

Mervyn Edwards quotes Dr Scott Allison, who in 1842 describes the condition as blackening of the lungs in the drier pits. The symptoms are emaciation of the whole body, constant shortness and quickness of breath, occasional stitches in the side, quick pulse rate usually upwards of 100 per minute, hacking dry cough both day and night, attended by a copious expectoration, for the most part perfectly black. The disease is never cured. It invariably leads to the death of the sufferer.

From 1850 mines inspectors helped with improving safety and health. The improved ventilation in many collieries helped to diminish instances of respiratory disease caused by oxygen deficiency, fumes, gases and dangerous air borne dust.
Respiratory diseases included pneumoconiosis, emphysema, and bronchitis. Silicosis was caused by breathing siliceous dust from drilling or blasting of solid rock. Measures to prevent this were incorporated in the 1911 Coal Miners' Act.

Miners with pneumoconiosis were forced to carry on working until they became extremely ill. They forced to do this because they needed their wages. The Colliery Guardian reported that dust in the lung was first recognized as silicosis. It was a disease commonly found in coal miners and it was realized that it could be coal dust as well as rock dust.

A report in the Coalfields of the Midlands states that although the Working Mans' Compensation Act (1922) was passed it wasn't until 1928 that silicosis was recognized as a compensational disease. Miners who were totally disabled and were known to have been working in silica rock (a very small number) could then apply to the Silicosis Medical Board for compensation. If they were certified, they received compensation, either a weekly pension, or a lump sum. They were also compulsorily suspended from mining.

In 1931 the scheme was extended to include partially disabled as well as totally disabled. In 1934 any miner who had silicosis needed an x-ray, whether or not he had been working in rock.
In 1943 onwards it included all miners who showed radiological evidence of being at a certain stage of pneumoconiosis, even those who did not show true silicotic nodules, a change which enormously increased the number eligible for compensation and consequently the numbers certified and suspended from mining.
A report in 1945 says that doctors should not tell the patient that he has an industrial disease until it has been proved, because it upsets the miners and makes them anxious about getting compensation. It also states that medical services should be provided at the pits with a full time medical man.
The Colliery Guardian says that in 1948 The National Insurance and Industrial Injuries Act became into force. "Certain men with pneumoconiosis, are now permitted, if they wish, to continue working in the mines under approved dust conditions, and, under medical supervision. The disability benefit can be given without suspension.

Nystagmus is a condition that affects people who spend long hours in dark places with very poor light, for example coal miners in the early days of deep mining before electricity was used . There were many cases in the early days of coal mining. This was resolved with better lighting down the mines.
An article in the Staffordshire Advertiser gives details of a report from the Medical Research Council which recommends that miners had nystagmus sufficiently severely if oscillations of the eye is always present, even when the miner is looking at, or below the horizontal level in daylight, or if it still persists for five minutes in good light with the eyes at the horizontal level after it has been induced by darkening the room and using suitable exercises, and they should be certified for compensation.

The Committee, who had been investigating miners' nystagmus, said that the present standard of incapacity for certification was open to misuse and should be altered. With the growth in the number of certified cases in this occupational disease and with the claims for compensation and the resulting economic loss, alteration must be considered with more detail, as the effects of the condition are not as lasting as was previously thought.
When a man is incapacitated by miners' nystagmus, his employer calls upon the insurance or indemnity company to pay the compensation. The medical man they employ to report on the case could say that work on the surface would be beneficial and call upon the employer to find suitable work. The employer, knowing from experience that these men do not make good surface labourers, politely says that he has no vacancies but he could return to his old job. So the man stays at home, where his physique gradually deteriorates, so when he finally lost all trace of nystagmus, he has lost his value in the market place.

The indemnity company then has to pay compensation for long periods. To meet the charge they have to increase the premiums to the company. Thus the price of coal rises and so the consumer pays.
On the other hand, some miners carry on working, as they do not like the idea of living on compensation. He feels that abuse by others had given them a bad name.
The Committee says that when men with marked oscilliation of their eyes have been persuaded to return to work after three to six months rest, so far, the results had been satisfactory. They were also of the opinion that the miners' nystagmus is a benign affliction and the great majority benefit by returning to work within three to six months, and to work for at least six months before making a fresh claim for compensation.

At about the same time the Staffordshire Advertiser reported on a compensation claim for miners' nystagmus. It stated that at a meeting of the Newcastle Board of Guardians they considered an application for relief by a collier living in Audley.
It was stated that previous to the month of October he had been receiving a weekly payment of thirty five shillings as compensation, but in that month he was paid a lump sum of 200 in full settlement. In the interval he had spent the whole of that amount,including 90 on clothing.

The Rev J.H.A. Edwards thought that public notice should be taken of this, so that it might serve as a warning in other cases, where compensation was awarded. In his opinion, it was always the wisest course to adopt the instalment system of paying compensation.
The Relieving Officer said he knew of another man who was waiting to see the result of this application for relief, before deciding whether to apply to the board himself. By a unanimous vote, the Board decided to refuse the application.

This report in the Staffordshire Advertiser to me is a moral one. Should a person who has been compensated for an industrial disease not be allowed to spend it as he/she wishes? But in this case, should the same person who has spent it thus, be able to justify then claiming relief?

In 1906 acute bursitis was known as beat disease and was found in miners' working in coal mines. It is one of the oldest occupational disabilities known. Chronic bursitis usually produces a slowly enlarging, painless swelling and the patient seldom pays much attention to it until some complication occurs. Contusion of a bursa already distended with fluid may cause either a sudden increase in swelling, accompanied by pain. When infection occurs there is increased swelling accompanied by redness of the overlying skin and acute pain. In some cases a portion of the sac wall may become calcified and then the pain is likely to be persistent. The greatest sufferer from bursitis is the coal miner.

The following list is taken from Mervyn Edward's book Potters and Pits. He describes beat hand, beat knee, beat elbow and synovitis as an inflammatory condition that could become infected. He says that it is an insidious disease giving rise to a host of debilitating ailments, some of which were deadly. Dermatitis or beat disease became less common with the advent of pit baths and medical centres.
The inflammation on the miner joints was because of the constant pressure on kneeling and leaning against the walls to be able to do their work.

Mesothelioma Newsletter via the internet.

Asbestos is a naturally occurring mineral fibre that is mined principally in Quebec, Russia, and Zimbabwe. This newsletter says that the only known cause of mesothelioma (asbestosis) in the USA is previous exposure to asbestos fibres. It goes on to say that manufactures knew about the hazards of asbestos seventy years ago, but they kept this knowledge to themselves. The first warning of the dangers was given in the mid 1960s, and they were very inadequate.

Asbestos was used in many occupations. It could be used in various ways, for example around boilers, engines, pipes, brakes and in surface works.
A recent report in the Staffordshire Sentinel says that 1000 people will die from asbestos related disease in North Staffordshire in the next twenty years. This warning came after a landmark House of Lords decision which ruled sufferers could claim compensation from employers who exposed them to the deadly dust, even if they could not prove which one was responsible for their illness. The judgement was described as one of the most significant decisions in the history of industrial disease compensation.

In 2002 the NUM vigorously advertised for all current and former employees who have asbestos related disease, they advertised repeatedly in the newspapers and also sent each household a leaflet drop. It said "Have you, your late husband, father or brother worked with, or in close proximity to asbestos whilst employed by The British Coal Corporation, National Coal Board or a contractor either underground or on the surface and have been diagnosed as suffering from an asbestos related disease e.g. pleural plaque, pleural thickening mesothelioma, asbestos or lung cancer? If so, please contact us immediately".

They also requested miners and their families to contact them if they suffered from the following conditions, chronic bronchitis and emphysema, vibration white finger, carpal tunnel syndrome as they may be entitled to compensation.
Deceased mine workers' widows or children may be able to claim providing the miner worked in the mining industry after 1954. It was not necessary to produce medical evidence to support the claim; all that is required is a copy of the death certificate.

The NUM also advertised for miners who had worked with pneumatic or percussive tools. E.g. windy picks, drills, grinders etc, who suffered from numbness, tingling or whitening of their fingers as they may have vibration white finger or carpal tunnel syndrome and may be able to pursue a claim for compensation against both BCC/DTI.
The Staffordshire Sentinel reports that on the date of 31/11/2002 48,000 miners had received full compensation, and a further 65,000 have received an interim payment. More than 630,000,000 has been paid out to date.

In my opinion, while compensation will certainly benefit the miners and their families, it will in no way pay for the suffering and death of these men. Many died at a relatively young age, and others have great problems with breathing and pain, which in retirement spend their time a prisoner in their own homes relying on medication and oxygen therapy.

It is evident that from the early days of coal mining that many miners have received a harsh legacy from ill health, from minor health problems, to chronic ill health and fatal conditions.
Some of the industrial diseases have been eradicated with better working conditions, others have occurred, but with new methods of extracting coal becoming available, these in turn have been the cause of more industrial diseases. The use of asbestos has led to fatalities, with many more predicted.

Looking back to the history of compensation, and the conditions in which the coal miners' claims were dealt with, it is obvious that today there is great improvement in the system. And so there should be.

If you know of any other industrial diseases or have any further information on this,
Please contact me, Joyce Wilson via Email:-
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