Mine fatalities

As we ended our recent visit to Michigan I was looking through a book called “Some fatal Accidents in the Atlantic, Baltic, Champion, Trimountian and Winona Cooper Mines” by Clarence J. Monette.

The book is a list of annual Mine Inspector’s Reports that provided a brief description of each “important” fatal accident from 1889 to 1914. The Introduction also notes that thousands of less than fatal injuries were ignored by the inspector.

In this time the company was not held responsible for providing a safe work environment.  A mine is a dangerous workplace and it was not possible to change this fact. Companies were responsible for the safety of the tools and equipment, workers responsible to look after themselves.  If blame was to be assigned it was the victim who was blamed.  The workers were negligent, careless and they paid the price.  Each worker had a heavy burden place on them by the companies and the employer did not … a timid worker that complained.  Workers were accused of being too confident or brave because they acted foolhardy and careless.

A worker may have been scolded for not working safely, but ultimately their safety was their own responsibility.  Training was done by mentorship where the newbies learned how to do their job “safely” from the more experiences workers.  I a worker did not follow safe work practices and died or he died because of a co-workers actions it was not the company’s fault.

In a 1891 report the inspector wrote “Reviewing the fatal accidents one cannot fail to note that many of them are due to carelessness or lack of thought at the time of occurrence.” In this year lives lost to accidents was about 3.6 per thousands in Houghton County. MI.

In this time a worker death was unfortunate, however it did not create any outcry from the public. Fatal mine accidents usually caused one or two workers at a time. A fatality at a mine had little or no meaning to the workers of other mines.  Mining communities were defined and divided by the different ethnic groups of their population.  Mourning for the dead was limited the ethnic groups the worker belonged to. Wives of the killed workers were given $50.00 for the funeral and was allowed to live in the company housing until they re-married.

Recurring causes of fatal accidents include falling down skip shafts or being struck by falling debris – most often rocks.

It was a somber look at workplace injuries in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s.  A time where worker safety was considered the sole responsibility of the worker.

The start of WCB – Workers’ compensation was Canada’s first social program to be introduced as it was favored by both workers’ groups and employers hoping to avoid lawsuits.  The system in one where injured workers were to be compensated for workplace injuries, but in turn they have to give up their right to sue their employers. Ontario was first to introduce the legislation in 1915, Manitoba in 1916,  British Columbia in 1917, and Alberta in 1918. Federally regulated workplaces must follow the federal legislation.  For workplaces not federally regulated workplace safety remains a provincial responsibility and thus the rules vary from province to province.

In the United States, the first statewide worker’s compensation law was passed in Maryland in 1902, and the first law covering federal employees was passed in 1906, Michigan in 1912.  By 1949, all states had enacted some kind of workers’ compensation regime. Such schemes were originally known as “workman’s compensation,” but today, most jurisdictions have adopted the term “workers’ compensation” as a gender-neutral alternative.