Confined Space
News and Commentary on Workplace Health & Safety, Labor and Politics

Monday, August 21, 2006

Memorial Service For Harlan County Miners: "No 'Freak Accidents' In Mining"

A memorial service was held yesterday for the eight Harlan County, KY, miners who died in the coal mines already this year. Five were killed in the Darby disaster on May 20. Fourteen coal miners have died this year in the state of Kentucky, compared with 7 in all of 2005.

The service was organized by former federal mine safety advocate Tony Oppegard and former state mine official Kenny Johnson. Several family members spoke at the ceremony:
In simple, heartfelt testimonials the survivors spoke of their loved ones. Most were in tears; several said they wished they had been able to die in the place of their relatives, including Barbara Halcomb, who said she would have "crawled" to take the place of her son, Brandon Wilder, one of two miners who died in a roof fall at Stillhouse Mining in August 2005.

"It's hard to explain to a 2-year-old that her daddy is never coming home," said Halcomb, a soft-spoken woman with a gray bun, wearing a blue T-shirt with her son's name.

Mike Franks, 29, whose uncle Russell Cole was the other miner killed in the Stillhouse accident, said he will never forget waiting outside the mine when the headlights of the approaching hearse cut through the fog.

"I often think about what it would have been like if he came walking off that mountain instead of riding in a hearse," said Franks, who wept during his comments and left many at the memorial service in tears.
Tony Oppegard put the disasters in political perspective. Here are some excerpts from Tony's speech:
Although miners are mythic figures in many ways - because they work under the mountain in dark, dangerous places, where most of us would not work and will never experience – they nonetheless are rarely recognized by our society until there is a mining disaster. In fact, most miners die one at a time, and they receive very little public attention.


I see a lot of coal miners in the audience . And every miner in this audience - indeed, every miner in Harlan County - knows that there are miners working today in Harlan County, right now on the 2nd shift, who are working in unsafe conditions. There are miners being made to work right now under unsupported top. There are miners who are working without ventilation curtains being hung – and that is why we read the other day in the papers that Harlan County is a “hot spot” for miners who are still contracting black lung disease. There are miners working with the safety features of electrical equipment bypassed or “bridged out”. And there are miners who are working without thorough preshift exams for hazardous conditions and onshift exams for hazardous conditions having been performed. Most miners endure these dangerous conditions for one reason: because they need to support their families and they can’t afford to lose their job, which is precisely what would happen if they complained.

So the next time you hear that a coal miner has been killed by a “freak accident”, don’t accept that characterization. There are no “freak accidents” in mining. The next time you hear that a miner has been killed by an “Act of God”, don’t accept that characterization. Every mining fatality in Harlan County this past year was the result of an act of man, not an act of God.

And the next time you hear the argument that most coal miners cause their own deaths by carelessness - and what is needed is more “behavior modification” by miners and fewer mine inspections by federal and state inspectors – don’t accept that simplistic worn out excuse.

Go To My Main Page

Google Groups Subscribe to Confined Space
Browse Archives at

Search WWW Search Confined Space


DISCLAIMER: The views expressed in this Blog are my own and do not, in any way, shape or form, reflect or represent the views or policies of my employer. Links to or from other websites of individuals or organizations do not constitute an endorsement of these views.
Looking for Confined Space Safety Information?
Click Here

Search Web Search Confined Space

Greatest Hits

BP Texas City Explosion Stories

2006 Mine Disaster Stories

Popcorn Lung Stories

Speech on Receiving the APHA Lorin Kerr Award
by Jordan Barab, November 9, 2004

Acts of God, Acts of Man," by Jordan Barab, Working USA

Lies, Partisanship Caused Ergo Standard to Crumble, by Jordan Barab, Safety + Health, February 2002

A Week of Death, by Jordan Barab, Hazards, February 5, 2003


March 2003
April 2003
May 2003
June 2003
July 2003
August 2003
September 2003
October 2003
November 2003
December 2003
January 2004
February 2004
March 2004
April 2004
May 2004
June 2004
July 2004
August 2004
September 2004
October 2004
November 2004
December 2004
January 2005
February 2005
March 2005
April 2005
May 2005
June 2005
July 2005
August 2005
September 2005
October 2005
November 2005
December 2005
January 2006
February 2006
March 2006
April 2006
May 2006
June 2006
July 2006
August 2006
September 2006
October 2006
November 2006
December 2006
January 2007

Recent Posts


Koufax Award

For Best Single Issue Blog of 2003 and 2004