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Black Gold And Deadly Disease

View profile for Malcolm Underhill
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British Miners and the Right to Compensation

At its peak, the British coal industry employed over one million men.  As one of the most important industries in the UK, coal was the lifeblood of Britain and miners’ strikes could bring the country to a standstill[1].

Now the industry is a but a shadow of its former glory.  Global warming awareness, a decline in demand for coal-generated power, the crushing of the unions, nationalisation and then privatisation; all these factors have contributed to the closure of nearly every mine in the country, leaving communities and lives decimated, especially in the North[2].

But economic woes are not the only hardship ex-miners face.  Many have had their health destroyed and are left to fight for compensation to cover healthcare costs and loss of income.

Diseases associated with mining

Black lung disease

Also known as pneumoconiosis, black lung disease is a long-term and irreversible disease characterised by scarring and inflammation of the lung tissue[3].  It can take many years for symptoms of the disease to develop following exposure to dust in coal mines. Former quarry, foundry and ceramics workers can also be affected.

In January 2016, The Union of Democratic Mineworkers claimed that thousands of ex-miners may be unaware they have the disease because they were not given adequate scans[4] .


Attributed to respirable crystalline silica (RCS) found in stone, rocks, sands and clays, silicosis can cause fibrosis (hardening or scarring) of the lung tissue with a consequent loss of lung function. Sufferers are likely to have severe shortness of breath and may find it difficult or impossible to walk even short distances or upstairs. The disease is irreversible and many sufferers become bed-ridden and die prematurely of heart-failure[5].

Lung cancer

A direct study of iron-ore miners in Cumberland who died between 1948-1967 found that during the 20-year period there were 42 deaths attributed to lung cancer among iron mine employees’ resident in the study area: 36 of these occurred in miners working underground.  By contrast, there was no evidence of any excess mortality from lung cancer among surface workers and, for iron miners as a whole, mortality from other cancers was close to the national experience.  The study showed that the mortality rate from lung cancer for the miners was 70% higher than normal, which may have been caused by an increase in radioactivity in the air within the mines themselves[6].

Many ex-miners also suffer from emphysema and chronic bronchitis.


The 1999 British government settlement

In 1999, following a successful legal challenge brought by former miners and their relatives who were suffering or had lost a loved one to a lung disease caused by exposure to substances within mines, the largest personal injury compensation scheme in Britain was set up by the government.

Some 760,000 claims have been dealt with, and around £4.1billion in compensation paid out.

Claimants in the original case successfully argued that dust from coal could cause lung disease, but few steps were taken to protect workers.  One ex-miner, told the BBC:

Conditions were bad underground in the early years. The dust was so thick it was like walking into a fog.


British Coal did not provide us with masks for years - and even then there were never enough to go around.[7]


Making a claim for compensation today

British Coal and National Coal Board employees affected by pneumoconiosis can claim compensation through the Coal Workers Pneumoconiosis Scheme (CWPS)[8].  Widows and family members may also be able to claim through the scheme.

All other government compensation schemes for miners and their families have now closed; however, if it can be proved that negligence caused you or your loved one to become ill, then a personal injury and industrial diseases solicitor can help you make a claim for compensation.

The men who worked in the mines were tough.  Not only did they survive the hardship of the work itself, but they also came through one of the most bitter industrial conflicts in British history, and were forced to support their families any way they could when the mines were closed.

We owe those who are now suffering ill-health and the families who are witnessing the wreck of such strong men compensation, comfort and compassion.

At IBB, our industrial diseases team, led by Alan Jolliffe, has the expertise and knowledge to advise and represent you if you wish to seek compensation for mining-related or any industrial disease. To talk about how we might be able to help, please phone us on 0333 123 9099​, email us at or fill in our contact form.  Any discussions you have with us will be in the strictest of confidence.



[2] Ibid


[4] Ibid





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