Centralia 1947 Mine Explosion Throughout the Annals Case Study

Excerpt from Case Study :

Centralia 1947 Mine Explosion

Throughout the annals of the American industrialized age, countless tragedies have occurred within the workplace and these incidents have forced the public at large to consider the weighty issue of applying moral precepts to the realm of public administration. While the tomes of American jurisprudence are littered with examples of corporate enterprises and bureaucratic entities failing to uphold their basic responsibilities, perhaps no case has demonstrated the capacity to generate both outrage and activism as readily as The Blast in Centralia No. 5: A Mine Disaster No One Stopped. Authored by John Bartlow Martin, this seminal case study examines the unique confluence of internal and external circumstances which eventually resulted in the 1947 explosion of Centralia Mine No. 5, a catastrophe which claimed the lives of 111 coal miners. By carefully retracing the series of events preceding the actual explosion, including a history of the Centralia mine beginning with its opening in 1907, a cursory primer on the industry of coal mining, and a blow-by-blow recounting of the evasions, denials, and betrayals committed by the various bureaucracies charged with preventing such disasters, Martin guides the reader through the machinations of both private companies and public policymakers.

The most intriguing aspect of Martin's case study are found in his recreation of the measures taken by Driscoll O. Scanlan, the Illinois state mine inspector who thoroughly inspected the Centralia mining operation while doggedly pursuing his professional appraisal of the mine's flimsy safety record, which he believed made "Centralia No. 5 the worst in the district" (Martin, 1948). While Martine assiduously recreates the vast array of actors in what proved to be a farcical demonstration of public administration, with Scanlan's tireless efforts to alert proper authorities to the dangers inherent to the mine's conditions, a careful reading of the case study leaves one with more questions than answers. Throughout his circuitous examination of the Centralia mine calamity, Martin repeatedly returns the concept of administrative gridlock which plagued the bureaucracies created precisely to prevent such disasters, but he fails to propose alternative courses of action that Scanlan either neglected to consider or ignored outright. By opening his case study with a wrenching recreation of explosion scene, which declares emphatically that "one hundred and eleven men were & #8230; killed needlessly, for almost everybody concerned had known for months, even years, that the mine was dangerous" before concluding that the tragedy occurred solely because "nobody had done anything effective about it" (Martin, 1948), the author openly suggests that Scanlan and his contemporaries may have willfully missed their many opportunities to prevent such a tragic occurrence from taking place.

According to Martin's portrayal of the events, mine inspector Scanlan identified coal dust buildup as the source of the eventual explosion more than five years before it happened, and the numerous recommendations he made within his initial report on Centralia No. 5 appear to support this claim. The recognized historical review of major mining accidents from the era, entitled Death Underground: The Centralia and West Frankfort Mine Disasters, reported that conditions at Centralia No. 5 were known to be dangerously neglected, observing that "coal dust accumulated everywhere, reducing visibility, complicating ventilation, and making life miserable for workers," before warning ominously that when "mine air is saturated with dust particles & #8230; a spark or a flame can ignite the highly combustible dust and touch off an explosion that roars through the tunnels and rooms, claiming…

Sources Used in Document:


Hartley, R.E., & Kenney, D. (2006). Death underground: The centralia and west frankfort mine disasters. Chicago, IL: Southern Illinois University Press.

Fanning, F. (2007). Public sector safety professionals: Focused on activity or results?. Perspectives Newsletter, 6(3), 11-15. Retrieved from http://www.usmra.com/repository/category/disasters/Best-of-the-


Martin, J.B. (1948). The blast in centralia no. 5: A mine disaster no one stopped. In R.J. Stillman

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