The accident which happened April 26, 1942 on the Chinese Benxihu Colliery is considered to be the worst mining accident in history. Another name of the colliery is Honkeiko, in Japanese. This actually reflects one of the key factors which played part in the disaster. The coal and iron operation located bear the Benxi Lake in the ore-rich region of the Chinese Liaoning province was established in early 20th century. At the time, it was a join Chinese-Japanese, however, eventually it came under complete control of the Japanese. At article in the Encyclopedia Britannica outlines the state of the operation which led to the tragedy.
The Japanese invaded the Liaoning area in the 1930s, and during the Sino-Japanese War (1937–45) they forced Chinese labourers—some of whom had been captured from local military organizations—to work in the mines. Conditions in the mines were deplorable; food was scarce, and the workers’ clothing was in tatters. The flimsy shoes issued by the mine lasted less than one week. Diseases such as typhoid and cholera flourished in the camp. The Japanese overseers were harsh disciplinarians and used pick handles to force miners to their shafts. The mine was surrounded by a guarded perimeter.
Safety protocols were not much better than working conditions. On April 26, 1942, a fire broke out in the mines. It started off with a coal dust explosion, sending flames up the surface. A coal dust explosion – or any other dust made out of flammable material – is a deadly phenomenon by itself. If air is saturated with fine particles, excessive hear or a flame source can create a rapidly traveling explosion in an enclosed area, quickly building enormous pressures, damaging structures, creating shrapnel and killing every living thing in the area containing the dust particles. The Benxihu Colliery explosion wasn’t deadly all by itself, though.
The Japanese mine operators had to make a quick decision – and at the time, the best course of action was thought to be sealing off the mine – the fire would die out due to lack of oxygen. Saving lives was not a priority. Over fifteen hundred people died that day.
The truth was concealed by the Japanese government for a while. Sina News wrote in 2005:
Later Soviet researchers complied the "Coal Mine Safety Technology," report, in which they wrote that when the gas and coal dust explosion occurred in 1942 in northeast China coal mine in Benxi, most of the miners died from carbon monoxide poisoning.
Due to the abhorrent working conditions at the mine, the raging World War and lack of initial publicity, no lessons were learned in the tragedy in the immediate aftermath.