Mining is one of the world’s most notoriously dangerous professions, and its history is filled with tragic disasters. Here are the worst examples.
On April 26, 1942, a mixture of gas and coal dust caused an explosion in the Honkeiko Mine. As flames burst forth from the mine’s entrance, relatives of the miners flocked to the site. The Japanese in charge of the mine shut off the mine’s ventilation in order to try to control the flames, and put up an electric fence in order to keep family members away. A staggering1,549 miners died in the mine that day. After World War 2 was over, the Soviet Union investigated the accident, and they concluded that most of the deaths were the result of carbon monoxide poisoning—meaning it wasn’t the blast that killed the miners, but the lack of ventilation after the explosion.
2. Courrières Mine Disaster, France
This coal mine in northern France claimed the lives of 1,099 people in one day. Though the direct cause is unknown, it appears that coal dust somehow got ignited (perhaps by the open flame of a miner’s lamp or the mishandling of explosives) and created a massive explosion that swept through the mine. Rescue attempts were thwarted by the lack of trained mine rescuers present in France at the time, and even those who survived suffered from the effects of gas inhalation. The incident flared local animosity toward mining companies, and spurred strikes and calls for worker’s rights among coal workers.
3. Mitsubishi Hojyo, Japan
Japan experienced the worst mining disaster in its history when a gas explosion in the Mitsubishi Hojyo mine killed 687 of its workers on December 15, 1914.
4. Laobaidong Mine, China
The Shanxi province in northern China was home to a more recent mining disaster. On May 9, 1960, an astounding 684 miners were killed in an explosion in the Laobaidong Mine.
5. Mitsui Miike Disaster, Japan
Another massive mining accident in Japan, the Mitsui Miike disaster claimed the lives of 458 workers on November 9, 1963. Miners died both as a direct result of the explosion as well as the carbon monoxide poisoning that the explosion caused. Many survivors suffered severe, permanent brain damage.
6. Senghenydd Colliery Disaster, Wales
As British military presence expanded in the early twentieth century, so did the demand for coal—after all, all those warships had to run on something. The Welsh town of Senghenydd was home to a booming coal mine during this era, up until one tragic day in 1913. On October 14, methane in the mine was somehow ignited and caused an explosion; this explosion then kicked up the coal dust that had settled on the floor, which gave the fire even more fuel. Those not killed in the initial blast died were choked to death by the noxious fumes resulting from the explosion. 439 miners died in the disaster.
Though modern mining practices have drastically reduced fatality rates in recent decades, the industry remains one of the most dangerous in the world. Consumers can help make it safer by reflecting on their purchasing decisions; for example, if you’re looking to buy some jewelry, you can ask yourself “What is the best way to buy gold in order to support responsible mining practices and workers’ rights?” If mining companies feel consumer pressure to enact safer practices, it’s a lot more likely to happen.
Madeline Marshall graduated from UC Santa Cruz with a degree in History.