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Fatal Familiarity – Life Lost to Save Two Minutes

March 1928

South Yorkshire Times March 16, 1928

Fatal Familiarity
Life Lost to Save Two Minutes.
Barnburgh Accident.

“I don’t want to repeat what I have already said thousands of times. If people will stand under overhanging coal or stone without setting timber, they are bound to get caught sooner or later. The principle is the same in gate or stall. It is always better to set a sprag even if it doesn’t appear necessary. If two-minutes’ worth of time will save a man’s life you cannot help hoping that .in future that time will be taken. The most experienced men have been known to chance it. They have admitted as much to me even branch secretaries. I was once nearly killed in a pit while under the guidance of a manager!”

These observations were made by Mr. Frank Allen, the Doncaster district coroner, at an inquest at the Montagu Hospital, Mexboro’, on Friday on Tom Sturland, 39, miner, Goldthorpe, who died in the hospital on Wednesday from injuries received in the Barnburgh Colliery on March 1. Sturland, who was charge man in 81 stall, south-east one district, was trimming the sides and setting timber forward. He had to get down a piece of projecting stone and was getting out the soft stuff beneath and behind it when the stone fell on him. The evidence showed that he did not set a sprag while getting out the softs.

Elsie Sturland, the widow, 110, High Street, Goldthorpe, said’ her husband’ had worked in the Barnburgh Colliery ever since he left school.

Harry Holland, miner, 4, Homecroft Road, Goldthorpe, said he worked in 81 stall and the accident occurred on the morning shift on March 1. He did not see the fall but he saw Sturland busy at the stone when he passed. He heard the fall at about 8-45 and found Sturland on the ground with the big piece of stone across his legs and lower body.

Leslie Ludlam, miner, 1, Poplar Avenue, Goldthorpe, was working in the stall, also. He saw the projecting stone and considered it quite safe for Sturland to work at it without setting timber. If he had had to get it down he would have gone exactly the same way about it as Sturland had done.

The coroner: If he had set a sprag while he was cutting into the thick end of this stone, it would have held it up and he could have drawn it out later with a sylvester, couldn’t he?—Yes, but I didn’t see any necessity for setting a sprag.

Quite. But do you now? How long would it have taken to set a sprag?—A couple of minutes.

And had you plenty of timber there?—Yes.

If he had set a sprag he would have found the break that afterwards appeared at the back of this stone, and wedged it out with a bar?—Yes.

George Eccles, of Tennyson Avenue, Goldthorpe, the deputy in charge of the district on that shift, said he saw the place that morning before the accident and he and Sturland examined and tested the stone together. It was very hard and no slip or break showed then. He did not anything to Sturland about setting a sprag, but left him to carry on “in the, proper routine of working.”

The coroner: And is the proper routine to get softs out and leave unsupported stone projecting?—No.

Did you think it necessary to set a sprag?—Yes.

Did you tell him so?—No, because they all know to do it, everybody in the district. Sturland was a practical man and had always done it before.

Practical man or not, don’t you think it would have been better to have told him?—It would, as it turns out.

Yes, but it’s always turning out. We are always getting these accidents. Do you think it possible for a deputy to remind men too often?—I think he ought to tell them every time he goes into a place.

Well, don’t you think you ought to have done so in this instance?—Yes.

Isn’t it your experience that if men are not watched they are apt to chance it?—Yes.

In his summing up Mr. Allen made the observations quoted above—adding that he did not suggest negligence—and the jury, found that Sturland was accidentally killed.

Mr. T. L. Soar, manager of the colliery, expressed his and his company’s regret at the loss of Sturland who was “as regular attender and as good a workman as we had.” The coroner, jury and Mr. A. Williams, of the Y.M.A., associated themselves with the expression, and Mr. Allen added a further word of hope that the warning would not go unnoticed.