• Some Thoughts on Safety

  • General discussion about railroad operations, related facilities, maps, and other resources.
General discussion about railroad operations, related facilities, maps, and other resources.

Moderator: Robert Paniagua

  by 2nd trick op
There's another mining accident in West Virginia in the news this morning (1/20), fortunately with only two miners involved, rather than the 13 at Sago. The older members of our group can probably remember the last great coal-mining tragedy (Mannington, WV - 1968 - 78 fatalities), and some of us likely can recall when such incidents were more common, and the toll in life and limb much greater, as evidenced by the link below.


The point being: the railroad industry has followed a similar course. While I wasn't able to find an exact quote, more than one public figure has opined that industry, like warfare, extracts a toll in death and injury.

But as societies have advanced, the value of a single, productive human life has similarly advanced. The point is not whether increased regulations and fines will improve safety; the rising cost of employers' liability will see to that, regardless. It might also be noted that likely the greatest single contribution to the continuing decrease in both the incidence and severity of industrial accidents post-1945 was John L. Lewis' assent to mechanizing the mines, thereby reducing the overall work force.

Again, railroading follows a similar pattern. The number of accidents has declined, and smaller crews have caused a reduction in fatalities (though the absence of a caboose probably increases the totality of the wreck for crew members). But one need only peruse an archived copy of Railway Age from a century ago to see how far we've come.

Industrial accidents today follow a much different pattern. Reportedly, the greatest concentration is no longer in coal mining, but along the "petrochemical coast" of the Gulf States. Since fatailites seldom go above the single digits, the pubic's attention simply doesn't stay there for very long. But, as with railroading, the human toll is there.

One final thought:

While senior mine officials accepted blame for the erroneous first report that led relatives to believe that most of the men at Sago had survived, one has to wonder whether the combination of youthful wishful thinking inspired by the mass media and a recent successful rescue in Pennsylvania, plus ready access to cellular telephones, might not have caused a more junior figure in the mine's operating hirearchy to have instigated the misinformation. Uncovering this action would only lead to further recrimination and grief for all involved.

  by Aji-tater
Very true. A hundred years ago serious injury and death were taken for granted as part of the job, in both mining and railroading. I think too that when two trains met head on, or when a brakeman fell between the cars, the IMMEDIATE cause was a screw-up by the train crew itself or a dispatcher. It was easy for the company to dismiss the fatality as the fault of those involved. In today's society we are looking beyond that, for example, because many accidents have resulted from a crew falling asleep there is more effort to find alternative crew-calling schedules and other examinations of the life style itself. That is a good thing.

I must comment on your closing remark about the Sago mis-information. In general you are right, but news reports I heard indicate the mixup originated in the command center. That center was said to be occupied by not only mining company people, but also state and federal officials, rescue team coordinators, and perhaps local emergency responders as well. With that many people in the room, it seems unfair speculation to suggest the error may have come from a junior mining company official. That is true, but it just as easily could have come from someone from some other agency. Until we know for sure let's not suggest any one particular organization was at fault.