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History of mining - Atacama Region, Chile

Mine Safety

Mining 1830 - 1920
W. Griem, 2017
Accidente en una mina
Accidente por derrumbo de Simonin

 Introduction to mining history 1830 - 1920

español / deutsch / English

The massification of mining, the increase in the use of machinery and, together with the deepening, the rate of accidents increased. In addition, the consciousness of latent dangers such as gases, dust (silicosis) and others arrived.

The mines at that time were very unsafe according to today's standards, mainly because of a lack of resources but also due to a lack of expertise. In the literature of that time, this topic was often taken up. The French book "La Vie Souterraine du Les Mines et les Mineures" (Paris 1867) shows quite impressively and very drastically the non-compliance with the safety regulations on the part of the miners.  
However, it must be assumed that the miner was very careful to be able to work safely and, if possible, without an accident in the shaft. He knew that rescue was almost impossible in the deep labyrinths of that time, there were hardly any hospitals, they were far away and certainly expensive.
The methods of treatment and medications of the time were, as one might imagine, not always a help. It should have been clear to every miner that only accident prevention protects. Of course, many accidents have been provoked by the lack of technology or poor construction and working materials (ladders, explosives, etc.), but also by a lack of geological knowledge or extremely long working hours.  

It is often mentioned in literature (e. g. Treutler) that in Copiapó a larger number of blind men lived, which is interpreted as an indication of frequent explosions. In addition, the public showed great respect for these people and there was a willing support from the population. (see below *1)

One of the central demands of the miners during this time was therefore to secure the mine. The accidents damaged the miner and his professional future. Mine safety quickly became a central issue in the developing of trade union organization.

Of course, the major mining accidents had a major impact on general security policy. For example, in the Radbod coal mine in 1908, about 348 miners were killed. This accident finally led to a reorientation in occupational safety and a control body was introduced. In Chile, accidents were also frequent in the mines during this period. This is how Paul Treutler describes a blasting accident at the Cobriza mine in Tres Puntas around 1853. Accidente en la mina Cobriza

The European, especially English, influence can easily be recognized by several achievements.
That is reflected in a letter that a miner from Cornwall, England, wrote in a letter to his parents:
"We have got some of the Tuckingmill safety in our mine but I have seen some rope yarn in other mines. The do call it safety fuse it is brought from England the natives is afraid of it."


Accidente en una mina
Accident: From: "La Vie Souterraine Du Les Mines et les Mineures" (Paris 1867) - Foto grande


Literature and Links
Bibliographical reference

TREUTLER, PAUL (1882): Fünfzehn Jahre in Südamerika an de Ufern des Stillen Ozeans. - 3 Bd., Seite 50; Weltpostverlag, Leipzig.

Full letter in English: thanks: Thanks to Sharron P. Schwartz (University of Exeter) - for the permissions.


Historia del Partido Socialdemócrata en Alemania (en alemán)

SIMONIN, L. (1867): La vie Soutterraine ou les mines et les mineurs. - Paris, Libraire de L. Hachette et G.

Mining Atacama
History of Atacama


History of mining 1830-1920
Intro epoch 1830-1920
Technical innovations
Scientific innovations
Social conscience
Educational impulse
Mine safety
Records of the period::
Gilliss: Apires and barreteros
Work conditions of miners
Los Mineros (Tornero 1872)
Apires y barreteros - Tornero

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© Dr. Wolfgang Griem, Chile - all rights reserved  (Mail a Wolfgang Griem Uso de las páginas de y
Published: 7.10.2017; updated: 7.10.2017, 15.7.2018
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