Like a Canary in a Coal mine, this day in history was a warning. A fire within a cole mine in Marcinelle, Belgium killed 262 workers in 1956. The disaster wasn’t the first of its kind and wasn’t the last.
The fire broke out in one of the underground passages of the coal mine. The safety regulations for these types of work environments and a lot of the people who were trapped inside were burned alive. This is not a great thing to hear about, no, but it did give companies incentives to increase safety regulation in mines of all kinds.
The saddest part about this fire is the fact that the families of the trapped miners had to wait nearly two weeks to identify their family members. On August 23rd the rescue workers were able to reach the deepest chasms of the mine and retrieve some of the workers. The tragic fire took the lives of 136 Italian workers whose immigration agreements hinged on their employment in the mine.
Belgium called a conference to regulate safety in coal mines after the disaster. It wasn’t until September of 1956 when the Mines Safety Commission was established, that anything was truly changed. They were responsible for establishing and enforcing regulations in Belgian and other mines in Europe.
This disaster was later immortalized in an Italian film called Marcinelle and was centered on the mining complex tragedy. The mining complex in Marcinelle became a part of the Museum of Industry after the mine was permanently shut down, for obvious reasons. The museum also serves as a memorial to those who lost their lives in the fire.
Today mines are highly regulated in the US, but overseas there aren’t many changes. The federal commission for workers safety has tried to figure out how to persuade them into better practices, but they haven’t been too successful.
When an incident like this happened in Chile it was a huge deal in the media and virally, stories of the courage of the Miners can still be read online and in print. It makes you wonder what could have happened to these people if they were born in a different time.