Far from being examples of safety, scenes like this drove the evolution of powered haulage, healthier ergonomic tools, safer personal protection equipment and strata control technology such as roof bolts.
At the same time, they illustrate a time when the terms “thin seam” and “low cover” were much less commonplace, there was little need for specialized designs for mining into roof and floor rock in low clearance operations and coal blocks were often prolific and easily mined.
However, it seems the challenges the passing years have given the industry forced it to do one key thing: adapt.
Coal mining has certainly risen to the challenge, taking on tougher geologies and working in even the lowest heights with attention to safety that would have been unfathomable in the Roaring Twenties.
The nation’s coal industry in 2013 is not swimming in positivity. A rash of fatal accidents early in the year paired with ongoing market problems keeping some idled mines closed has left many unsure of what is around the bend.
However, through adaptation has come greater resiliency, an attribute the industry will certainly be using when it returns better than ever before.
Photo courtesy of United States Department of Labor, Mine Safety and Health Administration’s National Mine Health and Safety Academy Technical Information Center and Library, Bureau of Mines Collection.