18 miners trapped in another Turkish mine disaster

By bne IntelliNews October 29, 2014

Clare Nuttall in Bucharest -

 

Rescue workers are trying to free 18 miners trapped underground by flooding in a coal mine in southern Turkey. Coming just five months after Turkey’s worst ever industrial disaster at the Soma coal mine, this again raises questions about Turkey’s extremely poor record on workplace safety. 

Around 11,000 cubic metres of water flooded into the Karaman mine near the town of Ermenek shortly after midday on October 28. 25 miners managed to escape, but 18 remain trapped in a gallery 300 metres underground. 

Despite efforts to pump out the water, it continued to rise for around 15 hours after the flood started, only subsiding early on October 29. Hopes that the miners are still alive are now fading. 

Miners say that this is the third time the mine has flooded. Eight errors were found during inspections of the mine in June, though none were serious enough to require it to be shut down, Labor Minister Faruk Celik said, according to Hurriyet Daily News. 

The Karaman disaster happened just five months after Turkey’s worst ever industrial disaster, at a coal mine in Soma, where 301 workers were killed. 

The disaster was handled badly by Ankara, resulting in a backlash against the government from miners that drew support from across the country. Residents booed Turkey’s then prime minister and now President Recep Tayyip Erdogan when he delivered an address outside Soma town hall on May 14, and group of protesters attacked the local headquarters of the ruling Justice and Development Party forcing Erdogan to seek refuge in a supermarket. Mass protests followed in both Ankara and Istanbul. 

Trade unionists say that miners at the Soma Coal Mining Company have not received their salaries since the accident, although both the company and the government had promised that they would continue to be paid while the mine was closed for repairs. On October 28, around 250 workers from Soma started a protest march to Ankara. 

Poor safety

These and other recent accidents have highlighted Turkey’s record on workplace safety. According to the International Labour Organisation (ILO), as of 2012 Turkey had the highest worker death rate in Europe and the third highest in the world. The Turkish Assembly for Workers’ Health and Work Security found that at least 1,235 people were killed in workplace accidents in 2013 alone, and a further 979 people in the first six months of 2014. 

Outside the mining sector, safety at Turkish construction sites is a growing problem; Turkey has seen a massive boom in the sector in the last decade, but safety standards have not improved at a similar rate. The construction sector was responsible for the largest number of worker deaths - 294 - during 2014, according to the Turkish Assembly for Workers’ Health and Work Security. On October 27, Hurriyet Daily News reported that the Turkish authorities had closed down over half the 1,800 construction projects inspected in October over safety concerns. 

In September, ten people were killed when an elevator plunged 32 stories at a construction site in Istanbul. Like the Soma disaster, the elevator deaths sparked protests over lax safety standards, with hundreds of people taking to the streets of Istanbul. 

The Turkish government pledged to review workplace safety standards after the accident. The ILO announced on October 17 that government, workers’ and employers’ representatives and other relevant stakeholders agreed on the main elements of a roadmap on how to improve occupational safety and health (OSH) in mines. The government has already started ratification procedures for the ILO Safety and Health in Mines Convention, 1995 (No. 176) following the Soma disaster. 

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