A coal breaking plant, or breaker, processed coal after it was delivered from the mine. At the breaker, coal was broken into pieces and sorted into various sizes depending on its intended use. Then breaker boys, some as young as 5 or 6, did the rest of the work – they sat on wooden seats perched over coal chutes and conveyor belts, picking out slate and other impurities.
The days were long and the work was dangerous. First, slate was sharp, and breaker boys were not allowed to wear gloves, so their fingers were often cut and bleeding. Second, there were few safety standards at the time. Boys who were not quick enough could lose a finger to the conveyor belt, and those who were careless could lose arms and legs – or even their lives – if they fell into the gears of the machinery. Finally, there was always the danger of getting caught – and smothered – by coal rushing down the chute.
But even without accidents, breaker boys were taking risks whether they knew it or not. Working long ten hour days, six days a week, they were also breathing in coal dust that could seriously damage their lungs. More-- Breaker Boys