Coal mining was by its nature a dangerous occupation and few mining communities escaped the loss of men in accidents. In the Ayrshire coalfield the largest loss of life in a single incident occurred at Kames Colliery, Muirkirk, on the evening of Tuesday 19th November 1957. 169 men were at work when an underground explosion occurred. 17 men were killed and 12 injured. Kames had been considered a safe mine; so safe that smoking underground was permitted.
Survivors not working in the affected section said they felt the explosion as a fierce blast of air pressure, which was speedily followed by clouds of dust and fumes. In the hours after the explosion, more than 100 rescue workers working in relays had to walk and crawl with stretchers for two miles through the damaged galleries and roads to bring out the victims. On one occasion they had to tunnel through rock and coal falls. They were also hampered by their oxygen equipment, which was essential because of the difficult and gaseous conditions.
At the Public enquiry held at the County Buildings in Ayr in February 1958, statements from 50 witnesses led to the Chief Inspector of Mines reporting that the explosion at Kames was caused by the ignition of firedamp and an explosive cloud of coal dust. The explosion may have been triggered by 'a man innocently lighting his pipe'. Safety standards at the mine had not been of a high order and simple precautions had not been observed. Several factors had contributed to the explosion: poor ventilation in the affected area; casual and inadequate procedures for testing for gas; and inadequate inspections. It was a simple story of a combination of errors and misjudgments that separately were not dangerous but taken together led to disaster. The Inspector stated that no mine could be considered immune from explosion and recommended that in future no naked flame in any form should be allowed underground. All involved should comply with the requirements on dust suppression and the use of incombustible dust.
The names of the men who died in this explosion are recorded on the miner's memorial at Muirkirk, which commemorates a total of 80 men who died in mining accidents in the local collieries between 1892 and 1966.