Drilling and loading holes and the storage of explosives was another source of injuries and death. Even common sense was not all that common in the bosses pursuit of fast profit. At one mine the dynamite was stored in the blacksmith shop of all places, and was detonated by a spark touching off the blasting caps, blowing the place up and killing the workers inside. The most common accidents from drilling and loading holes came from:
- 1. Sparks igniting the charge before the blaster was ready.
- 2. Premature explosions due to misjudging how fast a fuse burned. One of the causes for this was that fuses were not made in a standardized manner. 3. Overloading a hole. Remember that the miner was forced to work quickly and for very long hours and by making the mistake of overloading a hole would bring the ceiling down upon him.
- 4. Misfired holes, the blaster would set 12 charges at a time and if there were not 12 that detonated that meant misfired holes. Some times the charge dud not misfire but had a slow burning fuse (again lack of uniform quality) and when the blaster would check on it the tardy charge would go off. Reloading a hot hole was also very dangerous. Sometimes in haste a loaded hole would be missed and in the dark the pick or shovel of a miner would hit the missing loaded hole and set it off.
- 5. The drilling of the holes often would send bits of rock or steel snapping back striking the miner, often putting out eyes.
Cages that were used to lower the miners down the shaft, buckets, mine cars, giraffes and electric trains were another source of injuries and deaths. Like all things in a mine the equipment was the cheapest that the boss could get away with, additional safety equipment was not used, the equipment that they did have was not maintained as it should have been, equipment was pushed passed its limits, and the great speed that the workers were forced to work caused mistakes. Because of these things many a miner were injured or died.
Gas was another common source of danger. As the blasters would blast out new holes, from time to time they would hit pockets of gas. If the gas did not explode causing a far larger explosion than the blaster counted on, it would fill up that part of the mine killing all workers in that area.
Silicosis, or as the miners called it, "the con", is a lung disease, like Asbestosis, Black and Brown Lung disease. It comes from Silica that is the world's most abundant mineral. In mining operations, such as blasting and drilling, great clouds of dust are created and within that dust is Silica. In the old days the bosses made no effort to keep the dust down. Once a miner got "dusted" as they called catching "the con", the miner did not last long. It starts out with a shortness of breath and slowly the miner suffocates to death. There is no real treatment for silicosis, other than to stop working in the mines at the first symptoms. But since most miners were trapped in their line of work, they would keep on working until they could not carry on any longer. Then most of them would slowly die along and penniless. In later years, as the result of a bitter struggle for safety, water hoses were connected to the jack-legs (drilling machines) that would cut down on the dust. Though this did prolong the lives of the miners, it did not eliminate "the con" all together.
Rock bursts [are] a source of many deaths and injuries of miners. Rock bursts are caused when the ground is blasted loose in one area of the mine, causing stresses to build up in the surrounding rock. When the rock can no longer withstand the stress it bursts out in a shower of rock and dust. Sometimes the burst is so great that the whole mine shakes like an earthquake. There have been some big rock bursts that were so great that they showed up on regional earthquake monitoring equipment. Rock bursts can spilt or even cause to crumble of even the best timbering supports. Miners can be buried or hit by flying rock. Those not in the direct area will be hit by an air blast, which they, unaffectionately call "a visit from Mr. Air Blast."
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