Friday, April 09, 2010

Death comes for the invisible


Assuming you or a relative don't work in a mine … how often do you think about those who do?

Not often, probably. Not until a fair number of them are killed at the same time and the same place, or rescue workers are racing the clock.

Coal miners, who to this day are largely of old-American, Scottish-Irish ancestry, do a job most Americans won't do, or even notice.


In his book Class, Paul Fussell wrote that one simple way of determining what social class people belong to is to ask whether they run a serious risk of being injured or killed while they are at work.

If bankers, lawyers, or Senators had the same statistical odds of meeting their maker while on the job, they would see to it that several billion dollars a year were spent to make their quarters safe from collapsing floors or ceilings, from computers that could chop off their hands, or from air that would leave sludge on their lungs. Health and safety inspectors would visit their premises every week. Any employer ignoring safety violations — like Massey Energy Company — would be in the gunsights of heavy-duty tort bomber lawyers, especially if the employer could pass the settlement cost on to the taxpayers.

Despite the efforts of OSHA — one federal agency that on balance has done a lot of good, despite its excesses — industrial workers continue to risk life and limb in numbers that are shocking, but only if you think about it.


According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, there were 5,071 fatal work-related injuries in 2008. It can safely be assumed that not many of those 5,071 were wearing power suits or occupied private offices.

"Slightly more than one-half of the 3.7 million private industry injury and illnesses cases reported nationally in 2008 were of a more serious nature that involved days away from work, job transfer, or restriction — commonly referred to as DART cases," the BLS says. "These occurred at a rate of 2.0 cases per 100 workers … ."

Categories of fatal occupational injuries included "transportation incidents" (crashes, probably mostly of trucks); "assaults and violent acts"; "contact with objects and equipment" (subcategories included "caught in or compressed by equipment or objects" — 299 deaths in 2008; "caught in or crushed by collapsing materials" — 101 in 2008); "falls"; "exposure to harmful substances or environments," including 192 deaths from "contact with electrical current" and 102 from "contact with electrical power lines"; and "fires and explosions."


No one wants these events to happen, of course. It's just that they're so removed from the world of the cognitive elite that as far as they're concerned, they don't happen. The media make a huge meal out of any finding that an airline has failed to meet the letter of FAA-required aircraft maintenance — after all, people jetting from conference to lecture to business meeting are perceived as being at risk.

Meanwhile, the people who build, construct, repair, mine, chop down, etc. are invisible to their social betters, who think of them — when they do — as bitter-enders, clinging to their guns and religion; rednecks; Joe Six-packs; red staters; flyover country losers. Only in dying are they granted respect outside their own circles. The media tears flow, at most, until someone or some corporation can be found to blame.



David said...

Our civilization, pace Chesterton, is founded on coal, more completely than one realizes until one stops to think about it. The machines that keep us alive, and the machines that make machines, are all directly or indirectly dependent upon coal. In the metabolism of the Western world
the coal-miner is second in importance only to the man who ploughs the soil. He is a sort of caryatid upon whose shoulders nearly everything that is not grimy is supported"

--George Orwell

Marcus said...

Beautiful post. Genuinely moved me.

Anonymous said...

You, Mr. Darby, are a Godsend. You had more true compassion and respect in this one post than a typical Leftie will their entire life.

God Bless you sir.

Rick Darby said...


Orwell seems to have had concise and beautifully phrased observations about so many things, it's incredible.

Marcus and Anonymous,

I cherish your compliments. Too much of this blog is negative criticism, because it's the easiest thing to write quickly, as I often must. The compassion for those who are harmed by my targets is at most only implied. This time, at least, my empathy with those who suffer could be spelled out directly.

Martin B said...

Well said, Mr. Darby. The elites of this country have no respect for physical labor. They have no respect for those people who make their very way of life possible.

The true answer as to who is responsible for the death of these brave men, is that we all are - to some extent - responsible, as we enjoy the benefit of their labor everytime we flip on the light switch, turn on the computer, or take a nice warm shower. The very least we urban dwellers can do is to recognize their bravery. And to do more, we should not sell out them and their way of life.

JD said...

True and heartfelt.
My grandfather was a coalminer and he was determined that neither of his sons would follow in his footsteps. They didn't. As he said, nobody should have to work like that; the heat, the dust, never seeing daylight in the winter months and, of course, never knowing if you will go home at the end of the shift.
Darrell Scott's song 'Harlan' sums it up perfectly.

Rick Darby said...

Thank you all for your comments. They mean a lot to me.