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Recently, Illinois residents gathered to share stories and artifacts relating to the Orient 2 mining disaster, which occurred 60 years ago in December and claimed the lives of 119 miners. The stories from relatives and survivors were heart-wrenching both because of the severity of the disaster, which occurred as a result of a shaft explosion, and the heroism of rescue workers, who reportedly returned time and again to search for brother miners trapped by the blast. Readers of this blog may be interested in comparing this workplace disaster with more recent workplace accidents, perhaps noting that negligence and failure on the part of inspectors is something that still causes serious injuries and wrongful death.

The organized remembrance, which occurred on Nov. 15 in the conference room at Franklin Hospital, included expert documents indicating that certain safety precautions, including inspections of electrical equipment, had been neglected. The neglect in part caused a large coal-dust and gas explosion that tore through the mine and injured and killed dozens of workers. According to documents, 257 men were in the mine when the disaster occurred. 133 were lucky to escape to the surface of the mine uninjured, and four men were rescued and hospitalized. One man was reportedly rescued 58 hours after the disaster.

Indeed, representatives from the Bureau of Mines, along with electrical engineers, conducted a two-day investigation in 1951. Their report stated that no attempt had been made to keep certain electrical equipment in permissible condition. A year after the accident, partly as a result of arguments from the United Mine Workers Association president, Congress amended and made stronger the 1941 Coal Mine Health and Safety Act. That amendment gave federal mine inspectors the power to close a mine if it was deemed unsafe.

Workers today still face similar hazards. Still, Illinois residents have the unshakable right to work in a safe environment. Much legislation has been passed in the last 60 years that gives workers the right to seek compensation when an injury occurs on the job. If an injury or wrongful death happens as a result of another's negligence, individuals and families can seek alleviation from high medical bills, lost wages, disability, and any pain and suffering an injury or death has caused. Workplace hazards may not be a new occurrence, but that is no reason not to ensure that workers' rights are aggressively protected in a court of law.

Source:, "60 years ago: 119 southern Illinois miners died," Mona Sandefur, Nov. 14, 2011

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