Safety and health in mines: the rise of bureaucracy in the coal mining industry and its results as evidenced by the public enquiry into an accident at Houghton Main Colliery

  • Douglas B. Owen

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy


This thesis is concerned with certain aspects of the Public Inquiry into the accident at Houghton Main Colliery in June 1975. It examines whether prior to the accident there existed at the Colliery a situation in which too much reliance was being placed upon state regulation and too Iittle upon personal responsibility.
I study the phenomenon of state regulation. This is done (a) by analysis of selected writings on state regulation/intervention/interference/bureaucracy (the words are used synonymously) over the last two hundred years, specifically those of Marx on the 1866 Committee on Mines, and (b) by studying Chadwick and Tremenheere, leading and contrasting "bureaucrats" of the mid-nineteenth century.
The bureaucratisation of the mining industry over the period 1835-1954 is described, and it is demonstrated that the industry obtained and now possesses those characteristics outlined by Max Weber in his model of bureaucracy. I analyse criticisms of the model and find them to be relevant, in that they facilitate understanding both of the circumstances of the accident and of the Inquiry .
Further understanding of the circumstances and causes of the accident was gained by attendance at the lnquiry and by interviewing many of those involved in the Inquiry.
I analyse many aspects of the Inquiry - its objectives. structure, procedure and conflicting interests - and find that, although the Inquiry had many of the symbols of bureaucracy, it suffered not from " too much" outside interference. but rather from the coal mining industry's shared belief in its ability to solve its own problems. I found nothing to suggest that, prior to the accident, colliery personnel relied. or were encouraged to rely, "too much" upon state regulation.
Date of AwardFeb 1978
Original languageEnglish


  • Bureaucracy
  • accident
  • mine
  • public inquiry
  • Houghton Main Colliery

Cite this