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Centralia Mines

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THE BLAST IN CENTRALIA NO. 5 (Assignment #1)
By Kareen Tompkins; July 2013
Dr. Shelley Taylor

In 1947, One hundred eleven men were killed in an explosion that took place at the Centralia No. 5 mines located in the state of Illinois. The explosion was caused by highly explosive coal dust that was ignited by an explosive charge.
During that time, Driscoll Scanlan was one of l6 Illinois state mine inspectors, appointed by Governor Green. He was given the responsibility of policing the mines as well as the operators. Additionally, it was his duty to make sure that the company was in compliance with state mining laws and followed all safety regulations. Mr. Scanlan had a reputation of being stubborn, righteous; was considered to have fierce integrity and took his job very seriously. He considered the Centralia No. 5 Mine to be the worst in his district. He reported numerous safety code violations, both minor and major and made several recommendations to assist the company with solving the problem.
Mr. Scanlan did report this problem to Robert Medill, Illinois Director of the Department of mines and minerals. At the time, believing he could get the company to clean up the mine, he informed the Director that he talked the officers of the local union out of bringing charges against the mine manager, Mr. Brown and not have his certificate canceled. Mr. Scanlan should have let the union continue with their initial plan of filing charges and having the mine manager’s certificate revoked. The fact is, this lack of compliance with safety regulations and intermittent responses to these violations while blatantly ignoring any recommendations made by the inspector was very serious. It showed that the company had the least bit of interest in complying with any regulations. Mr. Scanlan should have filed charges himself, given the history of interactions with this company.
Mr. Scanlan had written to many reports for so long about the potential disaster at the mine that Robert Medill, On March 7, 1945 provided to him copies of all communications with William P. Young, centralia’s mine operating Vice President. Mr. young asked the director for time to comply because there was a shortage of men which would mean that production would suffer. The Director requested that inspector Scanlan suggest to the mine committee to be patient with the company in complying with cleaning up the coal dust particles deposits throughout the mines, which he did. I believe this was an error on the part of the inspector. Mr. Scanlan was obviously following his bosses’ request, but he knew that the mine company was not working with him in any way. He should have denied this request and explained to the director that this was going on for to long; to prove he was serious about his position of concern for the workers safety.
The following year, sometime in April, inspector Scanlan conducted his regular inspection and again found conditions in the mine to be dangerous, this time he noted it was even worse. He should have immediately shut down the mine, instead he gave the superintendent a choice of spending 3 days per week cleaning up or shutting down the mine completely. When a company has repeatedly ignored state safety violation codes, the only answer in my view is to shut the mine down. The fact is, the company’s credit has been destroyed and when dealing with people’s lives, you must do what it takes to protect them. In a desperate attempt to try and resolve the problems, Mr. Scanlan could also have gotten in touch with the governor or even the state mining board to ask for help. He could have written them to inform them and express to them how urgent this problem was and how desperately it needed attention.
Mr. Scanlan had an obligation, a duty to protect the workers from unhealthy environment and hazardous conditions. This is precisely the reason why the legislature enacts laws for the country and its citizens; that is to prevent disasters like this one and others. If we were not able to set rules and regulations, it would be the nature of the ones with more power, money and influence to take advantage; to rule, take over and do as they please. The United States legislative branch devises these laws and sets up boards with members to implement these policies. They are responsible to make sure that these procedures are being followed. In the case where companies are not complying with these regulations they should suffer the consequences. Unfortunately, in this case, there were no consequences to these violations. Mr. Scanlan’s position should have been in my view to shut down and continue to make his complaint to the Governor and the state mining board. During that period, there was a war going on and the mines were very political. This is a case where public administration should have been separated from the lawmakers, for if that were the case, people would have actually done their job and probably would have been held responsible for their actions. We could have actually hired qualified people and would understand the severity of the problem.
In 1951, in West Frankfort Illinois, another mine explosion occurred where one hundred nineteen workers died. Consequently, after that explosion took place, there were several others following that but the number of death did considerably fall. The problem with devising these laws aimed at preventing and protecting workers is that it takes time to cover all the possibilities that could take place. Through these disasters, we have learned how better we can implement and enforce these laws and come up with a reasonable penalty so that people are more inclined to comply. It is unfortunate, nevertheless true; from the past we have made a better future and we continue to do so.

Public Administration, concepts and cases, 2010 Custom Edition by Richard J. Stillman II
Illinois Mine War: Centralia Mine Disaster;, posted by make better media

Pulic Sector Safety Professionals: Focused on Activity or Results? by Fred Fanning, CSP, M.Ed., M.A,

Centralia Number5-Case Study Number1-USMRA. dom MSHA fact sheet 95-8_Historical data on Mine Disasters in the United States…...

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