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Miner’s Death from Explosion – Fatal Third Shot – Unsuspected Pocket of Gas

January 1934

South Yorkshire Times, January 5th, 1934

Cadeby Miner’s Death from Explosion

Fatal Third Shot

Unsuspected Pocket of Gas

An explosion in the Cadeby mine on Friday which resulted in the death of Harold Edwin Straw (40), contractor, 60, Albert Road, Mexboro’, was inquired into at the Fullerton Hospital  Denaby on Wednesday by the Doncaster District Coroner, Mr. W. H. Carlile and a jury.  Also present were: Major H. J. Humphreys, H. M. Divisional Inspector of  Mines; Mr. G. N. Scott, H. M. Inspector, Mr. B. H. Pickering (agent, Denaby and Cadeby Collieries), Mr. W. Still (manager, Cadeby Colliery, Mr. N. Hulley (manager, Denaby Colliery) and Mr. J. Madin (Cadeby Branch Y.M.A).

The Coroner explained to the jury that during the night shift of Thursday, Dec. 28th, a roof in 212 gate of the Parkgate seam was being brought down by shot-firing.  Three shots into the roof had brought down three large stones too big to put into each of these.  Two were exploded safely, but immediately following the third an explosion travelled into the gob and through to Straw who was 25 yards away.  Another man further along saw the flashing travelling towards him and ran away, giving the alarm to a boy, who also got away.  Straw was burned by the flash and died on Monday in the Fullerton Hospital.

Ernest Straw, father, said his son left home for work on Thursday, Dec 28th , about 9pm. He had had considerable experience in the Parkgate seam.  Witness heard of the accident early on Friday morning and saw his son in hospital.  They had no conversation regarding the accident.

Careful Examination

Walter Wilkinson, shot-firer, 23 Warren Road, Conisboro’, said that he, Straw, and another man were engaged during the shift in bringing down the roof of 212 gate  Straw, by midnight, had prepared three holes in the roof into which witness placed three shots.  Carrying out the regulations, he examined for gas before and after discharging each shot. On no occasion did he find a trace of gas. He adequately stone-dusted the place prior to discharging them.  The result of the three shots was to bring down the bottom canche mainly in three larger stones.  It also left the top canche hanging partly from the roof.  Straw plucked this with a prop.  The three big stones, in witness opinion, were too big to handle.  The largest was four feet by three. Witness ordered Straw to drill a short hole in each of the stones.  While this was going on, witness left to fire shots elsewhere.  He returned to Straw’s place about 1.30 a.m.  He carried out tests for gas again and started firing.  After the first two shots he examined for gas and found none.  It was the same when he tested prior to firing the third shot which was in the biggest stone.  Then with the third shot there was a flash, followed by a cloud of dust.  He knew there was something wrong and rushed the men out to the main intake. He met them in the gate below and asked if they were all right.  They said they were. He then went down to the next gate and towards the face and there met Straw who was burned.  Witness sent for dressings immediately and bandaged the man who was taken out of the pit on a stretcher.

The Coroner: When you examined for gas what did you find? – Nothing at all.

How did you make that examination? – By a safety lamp with a lowered flame.

Where did you go? – Within a radius of twenty yards.

Both high and low? – Yes, right up to the roof.

There were no signs of gas? – None whatever.

Before these shots were fired you posted men at various places to warn others? – Yes. Straw was the nearest man, being about 35 yards away on the face side.

Where did this flash come from? – I saw a reflection on the low side travelling towards the left.  It went along the face through the waste.

Did it pass through a narrowing to get to Straw? – Straw was sitting in the smallest place.

Any sign of gas in the district lately? – No.

How do you account for this? – In my opinion it has been due to a pocket of gas from the gob which was forced into the gate by weight.  There had been a number of breaks in the place, but there were none in the lip that I fired.

Major Humphries: How long have you been a shot-firer in this district – Five years.

How often have you found gas? – Only one previously about two years ago.

Have you seen any reports of gas by the other deputies? – None.

Where were these holes bored? – In the solid stone.

You examined right to the fault side? – Yes.

Did the debris brought down by the first shots affect the ventilation? – Not to any extent. There was ample room over the top of the debris.

What interval was there between each shot? – A few minutes.

What was the depth of these shots? – About fifteen inches.

How did you test the roof for gas after the first three shots? – By climbing up a prop on top of the dirt.

Is it not a fact that there are a number of breaks there? – Oh yes, we have breaks.

How wide are they? – In some instances you can put your arm up.

Did you examine them carefully? – Yes.

Do you think it likely that there was gas in those breaks? – There is a possibility of it lodging there.

Had the shots any stemming on them? – Yes, close on ten inches of clay in the last three shots.  The holes were horizontal into the stone and about fifteen inches from the floor. There were no breaks in the stone.

Shot-Firer’s Theory

Do you not think four-ounce charges too much for this last stone? –  No.

Are you absolutely sure that two or three minutes before this last shot was fired, the cavity in the roof was clear of gas? – Yes.

Do you think gas would have leaked into that cavity during the short time between your test and firing the shot? – Yes.

How do you account for it? – By the waste breaking at that moment and forcing gas into the gate.  I have made inquiries and they had led me to that conclusion.

Did you examine again for gas after the accident? – Yes, I found slight gas mostly at the front lip and going back into the cavity. There would be between two and two and a half per cent and it would be about 18 in. from the roof.

Have you found gas at this ripping lip since? – No.

To Mr. Madin: witness said that when he tested, he travelled up the face to the lip edge.

Mr. Madin: Don’t you think it would have been better to put up a brattice after the first three shots? – I did not think it necessary.

I notice there is one there now – It is a precaution.

Not Overcharged

Major Humphrys: What was the condition of the stone after the shot? – Completely broken up.

It was not a blown-out shot? – No.

As events have proved, do you not think the shot was overcharged? – No.

Then how did the flame get up to the roof? – I cannot say.

If it was not overcharged the flame would not get up to the roof, would it? – No. I don’t think so.

Major Humphrys: Remember, I am not blaming you in any way,

Witness: I do not think it was overcharged. I would put a four-ounce in the same stone again.

Major Humphrys: I hope you would not.

Witness: I thought it was a normal charge for the size of the stone.  It is possible that it was overcharged

Answering the Coroner’s further questions witness said he placed two-ounce shots in the other stones. He could not put the same in the third, as it would be under charged. The next size was four-ounce.

You still say you would have used four ounce shot in another similar sized stone? – Yes.

You thought this was safe? – Yes,

Took His ‘Hook’

William Wilkinson, miner, 70 Clifton Street Denaby, who was working in 208 stall, about 25 yards from where Straw was caught by the flame and about 60 yards from 212 gate where the shots were fired, said that about 1.30 a.m. He heard the waste breaking. “Then there came a flash travelling downhill from 212 towards my stall. It was just an ordinary flash coming straight through. I took my hook and I ran. There was a filler called Jenkinson at the gate-end and I told him to clear as well.  Straw went stumbling past about the same time,  He was badly burned.  Later we went back.”

The Coroner: Do you examine for gas at any time? – Only when we think it is there. Our place was clear when we started.

Gas Unknown

Have you ever found gas there? – Never.

Do you examine carefully and treat it as an important matter? – Yes.  I have bever known gas in this stall during the eight or nine years I have worked in it,

To Major Humphrys: Witness said the flash followed immediately after the break in the gob. There was no smell of burning afterwards. The only fumes were those similar to after the shot-firer.

Questioned as to his methods of gas examining witness said he had apparatus attached to his electric lamp. “If that fuses in a test we have to clear out, we know the place is not safe.”

Answering Mr. Pickering, Wilkinson said the break in the waste was abnormal.

Albert Edward Griffin, contractor, 18 Harlington Road, Mexboro’ who was working with Straw, said he saw the shot-firer make a careful examination for gas.  He was not present when the shots were fired. Wilkinson always made a careful test all over. Witness thought the stones were too big to be broken by hand,

The deputy on the shift, Claud Portrey, 11 Welfare Avenue, Conisbro’ said he had not visited 212 prior to the accident.  He was about 130 yards away when he heard the last three shots fired. When he eventually examined the place for gas in the presence of the night overman, he found no trace.  He had been in charge of that district for eight years and had never found any gas or had any reported to him.

The Coroner: The shot-firer says he heard of gas being found there about two years ago? – It was probably before I was put on the night shift.

Witness added that he assisted in bandaging Straw and afterwards made a through examination of the whole district,

To Major Humphrys: he said there were intervals of two or three minutes between the firing of the three shots in the stones.

Major Humphrys: Could you examine thoroughly in that time? – Well, I cannot state to a minute because I was busy with the other men.

Was there sufficient time? – If he had everything ready.

After a number of questions had been put on this point, witness remarked: “If I was in a place where I was suspicious, I should take longer because I should make several tests.”

Blasting Stone

Major Humphrys: You have to be suspicious of everything. You are not prepared to make any definite statement as to whether there was sufficient time or not between the shots for a full examination. – No

How is it that Wilkinson found gas after the accident and you did not? – My examination was about an hour and a half after the accident and that might be the reason.  We went up almost to the roof and all over.

Do you think the shot blew out? – No.

Do you think it was overcharged? – Not for the size of the stone reported to me.

Is not a flame from a shot to the roof proof of overcharging? – Yes, but in hard stone if you do not put a sufficient charge, it only splits the stone.

Is there any other way you can suggest of dealing with these big stones? – It would be very difficult not to do otherwise in some cases.

You realise there is always a certain amount of danger in this practice? – Yes.

Can you do away with this practice? – No. I have seen some stones come down the whole width of this place. You cannot manage them except by this method.

Answering Mr. Pickering witness said he heard nothing like a weight bump between the shots.

To the Coroner he described the shot-firer as a “reliable, conscientious and capable man.”

Dr. O. Watson, of Mexboro’, who attended Straw in hospital, said there was never a hope of his recovery, Practically the whole of the man’s body, back and front, legs and face, was burned, and he suffered from severe shock which was the chief cause of death. There were no signs of carbon-monoxide poisoning.

Might Have Been Worse

The Coroner, addressing the jury, said it was a case which called for a good deal of inquiry. Though only a small explosion it might have led to something worse. Careful investigation was required for everyone concerned. “There seems from the evidence to have been no negligence on the part of anyone.  The shot-firer gave his evidence quite freely.  It seems very strange that in view of the good history of this district such a accident should have occurred. It is clear all precautions were taken, and we can be satisfied that everything was in order.”

A verdict of “Accidental death” was returned.

Extending sympathy with the relatives, Mr. Pickering said the company deeply regretted the accident which had resulted in the death of a trusted and respected workman,  “It has been of great concern to us and you can be assured no effort will be spared to reduce the possibility of a similar occurrence at either Denaby or Cadeby collieries in future.  We are in close touch with the manager of those collieries and with His Majesty’s Inspectors.”