On this day in Yorkshire

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More light in coal pits. Miners and electric lamps

February 5, 1923

The use of the miners’ standard electric hand lamp is steadily increasing over the Yorkshire coalfield. On a recent visit to one of the largest South Yorkshire mines the smell of camphor in the lamp-house told its own story of departure from the former oil lamp, and I was handed a fairly weighty, but handy and most useful light, securely locked for use after being tested and started.

Other Yorkshire mines use nearly all electric lamps; in some about 10 per cent, of oil lamps are retained, and in a very large number of collieries the oil system still prevails, only the manager carrying an electric illuminant.

Careful research conducted in a Lancashire mine on behalf of the Institute of Industrial Psychology has shown that the output of coal has been increased by nearly 15 per cent, as a result of using six times the ordinary degree of illumination.

When the ordinary standard oil lamp was restored, there was a fall in output, and the amount of “dirt” sent out with the coal increased by 47.6 per cent, compared with the period of electric lights. Miners, however, sometimes feel suspicion of the electric lamp. They make objections to it on its weight, which has direct relation to its lighting capacity. Then, too, they retain confidence in the security the flame lamp. They argue that in any mine which contains an element of danger, the flame lamp is an invaluable indicator, whereas the electric lamp will continue to burn even while the men and boys are suffering from adverse atmospheric conditions.

This question of adequate lighting and the differences between the electric and oil systems ca under discussion in reference to the recent Whitehaven disaster. From the safety point of view it should be stated at once that mines have improved almost out of knowledge since the Davy lamp was introduced.

Major F Mellor, a Yorkshire mining engineer, says on the question: “Better illumination at the coalface would have a great influence for good on output, and also on the safety of the workers.

“When it is considered that the light from the ordinary type of safety lamp is only 0.75 of a candlepower, and that the major position of this feeble illumination is absorbed by the black surface on the coal faces, it will be realised immediately what an immense difference the installation of electric light in the working places would effect; and there is no valid reason why electric light should not be taken into any part of a mine where it is safe to take a safety lamp.

“In my opinion, the danger from a damaged safety lamp is greater than possible danger from damage to electrical apparatus providing the electrical rules, particularly in regard to the maintenance of an efficient earthing system, are complied with.

“It is argued that falls of roof would damage lamps or cables and endanger the lives of men, but my contention is that “more light on the subject” would reveal many weak spots (which could be supported in time to prevent falls) that at present go unnoticed.

“Each fall prevented means mere coal won in the time which would otherwise have been lost in clearing the obstruction, and each fatal accident prevented means a day’s output through the custom which prevails amongst the workmen of absenting themselves from the mine for the day following such accidents.”

Those are all very practical arguments for the adoption of more efficient lights in mines, and there are other reasons which touch the daily life underground. Electrification is steadily growing in use for haulage as well as lighting. and I have seen overhead wires for tram trolleys in several pits. These modern introductions make for health as well as efficiency, and tend to the elimination of some of the less desirable features of colliery life.