As a coal mine supervisor, there were several pieces of equipment I used to detect the safety level of the environment in which we worked. First, was the barometer, which most supervisors checked before going underground. A low barometer reading meant methane gas could more easily seep out of sealed old works and accumulate in the high places on the track. Sparks from a bouncing trolley pole could ignite the gas. In the winter, such dangers were more pronounced because the dust in the mine tended to dry out creating more combustible material to feed a fire.
Two hundred years ago, methane was purposefully ignited by a fireman who walked down the mining tunnel with a lit candle on the end of a long stick. Small pockets of gas were cleared by small ignitions. Frequently, large ignitions killed the fireman.
By 1815, a flame safety lamp was invented to provide safe illumination and methane detection. The lamp had a pair of wire gauzes with 200 apertures per square inch sitting on top of a glass globe. Air permeated a series of louvers, passed through the gauzes, and, if methane was present, an ignition occurred in the globe. The flames shot through the gauzes and were cooled by the small openings and did not ignite the mine atmosphere.
When I started in the mines, the flame safety lamp was carried by all company representatives including section foremen. Each supervisor was required to hang one on his belt. You could see a foreman coming a mile away. At that distance, the lamp looked like a firefly, so the miners called them buglights. This instrument could be used to detect deficiency of oxygen or methane accumulation. I experienced internal explosions in my lamp six times in five years. Each time there was a noticeable "Woof" sound.
I still have the lamp I was issued when I became a supervisor in 1977. Mine has a round brass disk attached to the frame with my check number and name, R. Ray, 386. I now use it as a prop during my storytelling events such as the one at the Mid-Ohio Valley Multi-cultural Festival where I will speak on June 16 at 4 p.m.
In the 1990s, the flame safety lamp was discontinued as more sophisticated detection devices were employed. The lamp is now an artifact of 150 years of attempting to make coal mines safer.
Life changes around us all the time. Sometimes it changes gradually and other times change is rapid and head spinning. The buglight in my day was mostly a ceremonial device. It was a symbol of position and power. For twenty years during the 1970s and 1980s technology passed the need for a buglight. In the 1990s that symbol was eliminated.
Today the speed of change still varies depending on the issue. I am facilitating a session on Managing Change later this week in Washington, D.C. I will stress the importance of dialogue to adoption of new behaviors. Change is all about choice. Choice is all about communication and communication is all about dialogue. The more leaders talk to their employees about the reasons for the change and how to be successful with the change, the more followers tend to embrace it. Often leaders waste time and money bulldozing change to employees. Leaders are much more effective facilitating discussions and developing commitment.
R. Glenn Ray, Ph.D., is the president of RayCom Learning. To learn more about Ray's new book, Tons of Stone above my head: Coal Mining Stories with Leadership Lessons, visit his Web site, www.raycomlearning.com. Everyday Leadership appears each Wednesday on the Business page.