The Farmington Mine disaster of 1968 claimed the lives of 78 West Virginia miners and remains one of America’s deadliest mining accidents, but it also prompted the nation’s legislators to take action and pass laws that have improved working conditions at mines across the country. When the United Mine Workers of America held its annual memorial to commemorate the disaster on Nov. 18, those in attendance honored the brave miners who perished and celebrated the thousands of lives their sacrifice has saved over the last 50 years.
The catastrophic mine accident was the primary impetus for the passage of the Coal Mine Health and Safety Act in 1969. This law gave mining regulatory agencies significant enforcement powers for the first time, and it also provided miners with health and safety rights that they never previously enjoyed. In the half-century before the Farmington Mine disaster, almost 60,000 miners died in workplace accidents. In the 49 years since the passage of the landmark 1969 law, fewer than 4,000 miners have died while on the job.
A senior UMWA figure says that media coverage of the Farmington Mine disaster was likely what prompted Congress to take action. The world’s press descended on Farmington to cover the desperate and ultimately unsuccessful effort to save the lives of the 78 miners trapped underground. Services to mark the occasion are particularly somber because 19 of their bodies were never recovered and remain where they fell.
The fight for mine safety is an ongoing one, and some powerful lobbying groups are trying to roll back protections put into place to save lives and prevent tragedies. Attorneys who have represented miners injured in workplace accidents or the families of miners who have been killed may take these issues extremely seriously. These attorneys may work diligently to see that mining companies are held legally accountable when their disregard for worker safety results in injuries or deaths.
Source: West Virginia Metro News, UMWA leader reflects on strides in mine safety as 50th anniversary of Farmington disaster nears, Brittany Murray, Nov. 16, 2018