Three hundred one Turkish citizens were martyred in the horrific mining incident in Soma. This accident shows that the attitude toward high-risk jobs, and mining in particular, in Turkey needs to change completely. It once again reveals the urgent need for the total elimination of the danger of fatalities in businesses in high-risk sectors. If there is still a risk of fatalities despite all the precautions taken, then the best thing is for machines and robots to be employed in that sector, rather than a human workforce.
As will be seen from the facts below, workers still continue to lose their lives, albeit very infrequently in Germany, Australia and the USA, the countries with the most advanced mining sectors and that is unacceptable. Human life is precious; indeed, it is sacred. A system under which not one person’s life will be endangered must be established in the mining and other high-risk sectors, or such work must not be performed until such a system is set up.
According to a 2010 report on “Industrial Accidents in Mines” by the Union of Chambers of Turkish Engineers and Architects (TMMOB), the levels of fatalities in the USA and China are lower than those in Turkey. The report says that the number of deaths per million tons of hard coal produced in enterprises in 2008 was 4.41 in the state-owned Turkish Hard Coal Enterprise (TTK) and 11.50 in the private sector. According to the same report, that level in China in 2008 was 1.27 and in the USA 0.02.[i]
Another report, by the Economic Policy Research Foundation of Turkey (TEPAV), expressed these levels even more strikingly: “One person dies in the USA, 64 in China and 361 in Turkey to produce the same amount of coal.” According to the same report, in the coal sector alone, 2,554 people lost their lives due to industrial accidents or diseases in the period 1991-2008, while the number becoming permanently incapable of working reached 13,087.[ii] While China was the country with the highest level of fatal mining accidents, following increased inspection as of 2004, increasing use of technology, working conditions being raised to international standards and the closure of risky mines, that level fell by some 75%. Deaths still occur, however.
To turn to the accident in Soma, several factors, such as the absence of refuge chambers, the early warning system not working fully and a lack of emergency drills, seem to have been involved in the loss of so many lives there. Similarly, the way that the mine continued operating even though it was known to contain high levels of gas is another major contributing factor.[iii]
Deficiencies in the ventilation system, breathing apparatus and emergency escape routes, regular gas monitoring and high-tech electric and electronic systems also posed severe problems in the rescue operations after the accident. The use of low-quality and improper gas masks is another factor that caused the death toll to rise.[iv]
There was no refuge chamber in Soma. Turkey is one of three countries in which escape/refuge chambers with the capacity to meet all the needs of mine workers in teams of 20 or 40 in the event of accident are not compulsory by law. The others are India and Pakistan. The International Labor Organization’s (ILO) Safety and Health in Mines Convention (No. 176) contains items demanding a high level of work safety and stipulates international inspection, but this has not yet been signed by Turkey. International inspection will not only transfer worldwide experience to Turkey, but will also raise standards, capacity and quality in production; the convention must therefore be signed without delay. This must be the last ever mining accident in Turkey, and people must not be forced to work under such harsh conditions without all the requisite safety measures being implemented.
The state and nation must come together and start a great mobilization to heal the wounds from this tragedy in Soma. The families of workers who lost their lives in an accident as they labored underground in terrible conditions, risking their own lives, must never be left in need. These people must not be abandoned. They must be protected and watched over with love and affection and given guarantees that they are under state protection. All appropriate and necessary financial and spiritual measures must be taken at once.
The state must also provide new employment opportunities for those injured in the disaster, or else options such as early retirement and a pension must be made available. In any event, there must never be another Soma mine disaster in Turkey ever again.
Adnan Oktar's piece on Opinion Maker: