Soma mine was death trap, report shows
A scathing official report into the Soma mining disaster in Turkey has revealed a catalogue of negligent practices and a complete disregard for worker safety. The comprehensive analysis shows warning sensors were ignored, safety reports fabricated and ventilation systems faulty. Three hundred and one miners were killed in the tragedy in May.
The much-anticipated 126-page expert report, commissioned by the Turkish public prosecutor, clearly states the catastrophe was preventable. While eight high-level managers of the mine’s operating company have already been arrested in connection with the tragedy, the report points the finger of blame at almost everyone involved in the mine, including ministry bureaucrats, with the exception of the miners themselves. “The only innocent group is the workers,” says the report.
The Soma mine is owned by a state-owned company Turkish Coal Enterprises (TKI) and operated by a private company, Soma Kömür İşletmeleri A.Ş.
Inspectors were able to capture data from the alert and security systems at the mine during the three months before the tragedy on May 13 this year. The report shows that despite fluctuating carbon-monoxide readings and excessively high temperatures prior to the accident, miners continued to work.
Alarmingly, inspectors also found that most safety records were not consistent with the readings from sensors. They had been regularly fabricated. In some cases, safety records had been copied and pasted from the week before. Inspectors counted a total of 48 gas and 19 carbon monoxide sensors but many were broken and there was no proper calibration. Even those in use were not properly calibrated to measure gas levels.
“The gas measuring sensors established for monitoring the air in the mine alerted the start of the accident but the situation was not taken into consideration by company officials,” says the report.
Four days after the disaster, inspectors found underground carbon monoxide levels were still life threatening at 500ppm, which is ten times above the maximum recommended exposure of 50ppm. The report says that gas masks are crucial for miners working in conditions with high exposure to carbon monoxide and yet the masks were not checked regularly. According to the autopsy reports, 85 per cent of the killings were from carbon monoxide poisoning.
Crucially, the ventilation system was not adequate to meet the rapid expansion of the mine in recent years and had not been adapted accordingly. The ventilation plans for the mine did not even correspond to the real ventilation system underground.
The report blames poor ventilation for actually accelerating the loss of life, as it was unable to reverse the flow of carbon monoxide underground creating death chambers for the miners. It also blames the ventilation system as a “very negative factor” in rescue efforts.
Furthermore, poor communication systems were criticized for not working or meeting standards for underground operations. There was neither an evacuation plan nor compulsory vocational training for workers related to health and safety.
Kemal Özkan, assistant general secretary at IndustriALL Global Union, led a global solidarity mission to Turkey in the wake of the Soma mine disaster. He states:
“The senseless disregard for miners’ safety on the part of owners, management and government almost beggars belief. Lives have been sacrificed for lies. In a relentless drive for profits, sensor warnings were ignored, safety reports falsified, and ventilation systems fatally flawed. As a result, the industrial homicide at Soma left 301 miners dead and 432 children without fathers. The report brings nothing but shame on the Turkish mining industry.
The pattern of highly intensive mining since Soma Kömür İşletmeleri A.Ş. took control in 2009, led to production levels that were 2.5 times more than was planned. The company was able to extract 15 million tonnes of coal by May 2014 instead of by the original target date of March 2017. The report says: “We are of the opinion that this data confirms the claims or allegations of the workers of highly intensified workload and the production pressures.”
An additional report into the Soma disaster by the Turkish association of chambers of engineers and architects TMMOB, states: “The reason for the carnage is privatization, marketization and the outsourcing policies over the past 12 years in the mining sector and also in the area of health and safety.”
The expert report, which will be used by the public prosecutor for his indictment, singles out people it considers culpable for the accident. The long list includes: the employer; employer representatives; permanent supervisor; technical supervisor; all the shift supervisors in charge of safety; all safety experts; the engineer responsible for underground ventilation; employees responsible for recording the data from the sensors; TKI’s chief control engineer and all control engineers from TKI; the general director of mining affairs; all representatives from the mining affairs general directorate; and inspectors from the ministry of labour and social security.
The report concludes: “Our group is of the opinion that there were many negligent practices and deficiencies and finally this accident was avoidable.”