HL Deb 17 March 1890 vol 342 cc979-81

in rising to call attention to the statement of Thomas Jones Rowlands, an engineman, who, on 5th March, was charged at the Pontypridd Police Court, and fined £2 for a breach of the special rules of the National Colliery, Rhondda Each Valley; and to ask Her Majesty's Government what rules, if any, are observed in coal mines regulating the number of hours allowed to be worked by men in charge of steam machinery, said: My Lords, this matter to which I wish to allude is, in itself, a very small one, although the consequences might have been serious, but it involves considerations which may be of much danger to the population working underground. It appears that a man named Rowlands was, on the 5th March, charged at the Police Court at Pontypridd with a breach of his duty, and of the special rules of the National Colliery in the Rhondda Each Valley. This man was in charge of the engine which pumps air into the mine, and the ventilation of the mine, therefore, was in his hands. The charge was that he was found asleep at his post late on Sunday night. Owing to the neglect of his duty the strokes of the engine had naturally diminished, and the quantity of fresh air pumped into the mine had, in fact, very considerably decreased. Of course, your Lordships will understand the danger to the mine or to the men working in the mine if the supply of fresh air were allowed to fall off. The charge was proved, and the man was fined the full amount of £2, the Stipendiary Magistrate remarking that he had by his neglect imperilled the lives of 117 men, and that if it had not been for the casual visit of the manager to the engine-house the ventilation would have become still lower and weaker, and terrible disaster to the men in the colliery might have ensued. The excuse which Rowlands gave was that he was exhausted by overwork. He said that on that very day, the Sunday, he had worked 14½ hours; he said he had been on duty since 8 o'clock in the morning, and that during the day he had been assisting with the machinery, which required vary careful attention and manipulation. He also said he had worked very long hours during the week—all day during Wednesday, then on at night, and all day on Thursday; that he had been at the engine all day on Friday and looking after the machinery; then he was employed at the engine all day on Saturday and again on the Sunday, as I have told your Lordships, and that, being exhausted, he had gone to sleep. These facts I cannot guarantee as accurate. I merely quote them as they were given in the local journal. The only observation apparently made in the matter by the officials of the colliery was that the man was not compelled to work overtime, and that it was entirely his own doing. Without going into contentious matters, it will be obvious to your Lordships that whether the man exhausted himself by working overtime from his own wish, or not, and was incapable of exercising proper vigilance in his duties, makes no difference to the men in the mine in the event of an accident occurring. I think your Lordships will agree that where the safety of a number of persons is entrusted to a man in charge of machinery of that kind steps should be taken to ascertain that he is physically competent to exorcise the important duties entrusted to him, and that he is not in a state of physical exhaustion from overwork, even if that overwork was of his own seeking. Whether any rule of the kind exists at collieries I do not know, and therefore I wish to ask Her Majesty's Government what rules, if any, are observed in coal mines regulating the number of hour's work for men in charge of steam machinery.


In answer to the noble Earl I have to state that neither by the general rules laid down in the Mines' Regulation Act of 1887, nor by the special rules established in the South Wales District, has any attempt been made to regulate the number of hours allowed to be worked by men in charge of steam machinery. I would only add, that without further information, we are not inclined to attach any blame to the managers of the colliery; but at the same time there is sufficient evidence to make us consider whether some better arrangement could not be made than seems to have been followed in this case, when a man, after long hours of labour, voluntarily undertaken by himself, should at night be left in charge of machinery controlling 117 lives.

House adjourned at a quarter before Six o'clock till to-morrow at a quarter past Ten o'clock.