Letter: Making mines safer

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May I reply to the view A J P Dalton gives (Letters 28 January) of health and safety conditions in Britain's coal mines?

The past 50 years have seen a significant improvement and this is continuing. Since the inception of the Health and Safety Commission and Executive (HSC/E) the enforcement of regulations dealing with control of respirable dust, noise and hazardous substances has greatly improved miners' health protection. I agree that miners have suffered the scourge of lung diseases since coal was first mined. Nevertheless, it was not until research was instituted by the Medical Research Council in 1936 that coal dust was recognised as a primary agent. The first controls were introduced by the National Coal Board in 1949.

The pounds 1bn compensation referred to by Mr Dalton relates to respiratory diseases other than pneumoconiosis, such as chronic bronchitis and emphysema. Although the causal effect of coal dust in these diseases is not yet precisely understood, a forthcoming HSC review will closely examine the evidence.

HSE is conducting a full investigation into the allegations of accident under-reporting which emerged during 1997 and I would assure you that HSE will prosecute mine operators wherever appropriate.

BRIAN LANGDON

HM Chief Inspector of Mines

Health and Safety Executive

Bootle, Merseyside

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