Regulating Danger: The Struggle for Mine Safety in the Rocky Mountain Coal Industry

Regulating Danger: The Struggle for Mine Safety in the Rocky Mountain Coal Industry

Regulating Danger: The Struggle for Mine Safety in the Rocky Mountain Coal Industry

Regulating Danger: The Struggle for Mine Safety in the Rocky Mountain Coal Industry

Synopsis

From the 1880s to the 1980s more than eight thousand workers died in the coal mines of the Rocky Mountain states. Sometimes they died by the dozens in fiery explosions, but more often they died alone, crushed by collapsing roofs or runaway mine cars. Many old-timers in coal-mining communities and even some historians have blamed the high fatality rate on ruthless coal barons exploiting miners in the single-minded pursuit of profit. The coal industry preferred to blame careless miners. James Whiteside looks beyond those charges in seeking to explain why the western coal mines were (and, to some degree, still are) dangerous and why territorial, state, and federal laws failed for so long to make them safer.

Regulating Danger is the first extended study of the coal-mining industry in Colorado, New Mexico, Utah, Wyoming, and Montana. It exceeds the scope of traditional labor history in focusing on working conditions and the problems of workers instead of unions and strikes. After examining the inherent physical dangers of the work, Whiteside shows how the interplay of economic, social, and technological forces created an envi-ronment of death in the western coal mines. He goes on to discuss evolving industrial and political attitudes toward issues of responsibility for mine safety and government regulation and the fundamental changes in the industry that brought about safer working conditions.

Excerpt

Ludlow lies in the heart of what once was southern Colorado's Kingdom of Coal. Located a few miles north of Trinidad, near the Colorado-New Mexico border, Ludlow was a depot of the Colorado and Southern Railroad. Nearby, the Colorado Fuel and Iron Company and the Victor-American Fuel Company operated several large coal mines. Little remains to recall the days when thousands of coal miners worked there and at dozens of other coal camps in the Rocky Mountain West, taking fuel from the earth to power the region's economic growth. Today an old filling station and store command the interchange on Interstate 25. If you leave the highway and follow the dirt road for a short distance, you will come on a strange sight. There, where one of the many foothills canyons opens out onto the plains, stands a monument, a large corniced column with the granite figures of a man, woman, and child at its base. The Ludlow monument commemorates the worst episode in Colorado's turbulent, sometimes violent history of industrial labor relations. Here, on 20 April 1914, fighting broke out between a detachment of the Colorado National Guard and striking miners who, with their families, had established a tent colony. When the shooting stopped, the smoldering wreckage of the colony yielded nearly a score of dead, mostly women and children. Their names--Tikas, Fyler, Bartolotti, Costa, Rubino, Valdez, Petrucci, Snyder, Pedregone--offered a roster of . . .

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