Letter: Miners' suffering

Sir: Anyone with any human feeling welcomes the High Court judgment in favour of British coal miners suffering, dying and deceased of coal- related lung diseases ("Pitmen win historic court victory" 24 January). However, it seems the British public will have to fork out up to pounds 1bn in compensation. Why?

In 1661 John Evelyn first noted the harmful effects of "Newcastle cole" to those who mined and used coal. By 1831 medical authorities had recorded lung disease in coal miners. In 1915 HM Medical Inspector of Factories, H M Collis, noted higher levels of bronchitis among coal miners from South Wales, Monmouth and Lancashire.

I reviewed the situation in 1989, for the coal mining trade unions NUM and Nacods, and it was clear that British Coal cared little about coal miners' health and safety.

Supposedly, the British Factory Inspectorate, formed in 1833 largely to deal with coal and cotton industry hazards, is the envy of the world. But, if they cannot control the well-known hazards of coal mining, after 100 years of evidence; what hope is there of them controlling more subtle hazards, such as those from computers and sick building syndrome.

During the last six months, alone, in the coal mines there have been scandals, or large common law claims, on the under-reporting of coal mining accidents, vibration white finger and dust disease. Other hazards of coal mining include deafness, back injury, severe skin problems, long working hours and massive stress. In 1996/97 there was just one conviction by our workplace police, the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) with a fine of pounds 750.

Fifty years ago, in 1938, the last Royal Commission on Safety in Coal Mines reported. We urgently need a new Royal Commission to investigate the public health disaster that affects coal miners and the failure of the HSE and to protect the health and safety of the current 10,500 coal miners in 19 deep mines.


Health and Safety Co-ordinator

Transport and General Workers' Union

London SW1