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Work as a miner underground was dangerous, with the ever present risk of explosions, rock falls or injury through the use of tools and equipment. “Dust” was very prevalent, leading to the diseases pneumoconiosis and silicosis, which attacked the lungs. Miners’ nystagmus, which could lead to a loss of sight, might develop due to the flickering of the lamps in the otherwise pitch-back darkness of the mines.

With a high incidence of industrial injuries and illnesses, medical treatment was in great demand, but few miners could afford the doctor’s bills for the treatment of themselves or their families. There were Friendly Societies, which through subscription could pay for such treatment, but overall medical provision prior to 1914 was poor, with the local authorities slow to provide hospital beds: in 1914 there were 88 hospital beds in the Rhondda valley, which had a population of 180,000.

Many colliery companies employed their own doctors, and fees were deducted directly from the miners’ wages. These Miners’ Medical Schemes were highly praised, with the Tredegar Miners’ Medical Scheme acting as one of the models for the creation of the National Health Service in 1945.


Collis, Edgar Leigh. The coal miner : his health, diseases and general welfare. (Glasgow : Industrial Health Education Society.)

Communist Party of Great Britain. Safety in mines : memorandum submitted / by the Communist Party of Great Britain to the Royal Commission on Safety in Coal Mines. (London : Communist Party of Great Britain, [1935?].)

Craw, John. Coalworkers' pneumoconiosis, emphysema and bronchitis: a report to the National Union of Mineworkers.  (1977?)

Health and Safety Executive. Chest X-rays in dust diseases. (London : HMSO, 1977.)

Health and Safety Executive. Coal mines: health and safety. (London : H.M.S.O.)

Mines Department. Coal mines act, 1911 : regulations and orders relating to safety and health. (London : HMSO, 1932.)

Ministry of Fuel and Power. Coal Mines Act, 1911 : regulations and orders relating to safety and health. (London : H.M.S.O., 1949.)

All items listed in the further reading are available for consultation in either the South Wales Miners’ Library or the Library and Information Centre, University of Wales Swansea. Click here to link to the library catalogue. 

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