Today’s workers deserve respect and appreciation

On June 26, 2009 I attended a function in Belpre where I ran into a colleague of mine with whom I worked in the coal mine. He related a story that chilled and saddened me.

Early in my years as a coal mine section foreman, I had a man on my crew named Ray Ashworth. Ray was a very good roof bolter, had a big heart, and held a finite view of right and wrong. Ray and I bumped heads at times but he also helped me tremendously many other times.

I left the mine where Ray and I worked in October of 1979. Soon after, the mine shut down. Ray like many of the out-of-work miners chose to seek work in other states. He finally found a job in Alabama at the Jim Walter Resources # 5 mine. That is until Sept. 23, 2001 on an idle Sunday afternoon shift.

Ray was working as a belt installer with three other crew members and his supervisor. At 5:20 p.m., an explosion occurred on the other side of the mine from an arc created when a battery was damaged by a roof fall. Ray’s supervisor ordered him and his crew to travel to the affected area to rescue an injured miner. On the way, the miners discussed the wisdom of traveling all the way across the mine after an explosion.

They arrived shortly before 6:15 and another larger explosion occurred when methane was ignited. The ball of fire traveled quickly, fed by coal dust suspended in the air by the explosion. Twelve miners on two sections died immediately. Ray was injured by the concussion and limped down the track to the place where rescuers found him four hours later, alive but unable to communicate. He was transported by Lifesaver helicopter to a nearby hospital and died the next day.

It was hard for me to read the Mine Safety and Health Administration’s Report of Investigation for the incident and the days and hours that led to it. This is the worst nightmare of any coal miner or his/her family members. When one works in such a dangerous industry, you know life-threatening accidents are possible, but it doesn’t consume your thoughts. You go about making a living for your family in the best way possible.

I have thought a lot about Ray since I learned his fate and read the particulars of his action. In my mind, Ray Ashworth was a hero for the actions he took. Years ago when I knew him, he was a role-model for his peers and a good contributor to the crew’s productivity. He did what was required of him and he did it well. My colleague who informed me of Ray’s tragic demise said of him, “There are some people whom you meet in your life and leave an impression on you some way and he is one of those people that I will remember.” The working men and women of America work hard in today’s environment. They deserve our respect and appreciation. Way too many of them still give their lives to support their families like Ray Ashworth did.

R. Glenn Ray, Ph.D., is the president of RayCom Learning. To learn more about Ray’s completely revised, third printing of The Facilitative Leader: Behaviors that Enable Success, visit his Web site, or call him at 740-629-4536. Everyday Leadership appears each Wednesday on the Business page.