The explosion and 110 deaths at the Ulyanovskaya Coal Mine likely came about from a combination of harsh work policies, lack of safety enforcement, and simple misfortune.
The explosion happened when miners struck a pocket of methane gas. These pockets occur naturally in coal, and are not avoidable. The gas found a spark in some electrical equipment and ignited. Existing coal dust probably added to the force of the blast.
The mine’s gas detection system, the MineWatch PC21 from Davis Derby, was designed to detect methane, and at atmospheric concentrations above 2%, to automatically shut down electricity to the tunnel and activate supplemental ventilation. This reportedly happened several times per day, negatively impacting miners’ work. One source says the miners covered methane detectors with rags so they could work more. Safety checks by managers either missed this activity or ignored it.
Payment policy for miners gave them a set wage, plus bonuses for productivity. This engendered an attitude of risk-taking for the sake of profit, leading to miners engaging in unsafe behaviours.
The Ulyanovskaya mine explosion resulted in thorough safety inspections at all 500 Russian mines, the temporary closure of 30 mines, and an alteration of attitudes towards safety in the industry.