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January 09, 2013, Wednesday

Tragedy in Zonguldak

I have been writing exclusively about politics. As you know, Turkey is going through a process of change and transformation.

There are reforms which were left unenforced throughout the ages and a myriad of problems stemming from our inability to make reforms. They have posed a weighty burden on us for the last 10 years. This is surely a result of the Justice and Development Party (AK Party) coming to power in 2002 as the political representative of a mentality that sought to solve these problems. As reforms were enforced, military tutelage declined. However, all the institutions of the state apparatus which were designed to perpetuate the tutelage could not be overhauled at a similar pace. This makes the lives of citizens harder, not only in the form of political crises but also in severe setbacks in all walks of life. Key steps were taken and substantial changes were made by the government. However, there are vital flaws in understanding how the state offers public services.

We witnessed one of consequences of these flaws on Monday. Eight workers were killed in an accidental explosion in a mine in Kozlu, Zonguldak province. Three workers are waiting to be rescued from the tons of coal and soil which crumbled over them. We hope to hear good news about these workers.

The shocking bit is: Inspectors from the Court of Accounts audited this mining site and prepared a report in 2011. If you look at this report, you will notice that this mining site should have been sealed off two years ago. But it wasn’t. They were merely fined. From the coal mine administration all the way up to the state institutions, including the Ministry of Labor, surely everyone has to be held accountable for such a mistake. Let us see the vital flaws noted in the report:

The firm that was awarded the contract to operate the mine had no previous experience in digging tunnels in a coal mine. The firm failed to take measures to ensure work safety. Despite countless written and oral warnings, miner cap lamps with the required certificates were not used. The miners were not provided with any protection during firing sequences. Power cables were not joined together in such a way to avoid explosions. The tips of power cables were left in the open. Dynamite and capsule crates were not regularly monitored. Mechanisms used to stop engines via temperature and gas level sensors were not operational.

Most importantly, Chamber of Mining Engineers (MMO) President Mehmet Torun said: “You should drill in the tunnel and dissipate the gas via drill holes before proceeding. Our preliminary findings here indicate that the number of drill holes and the depths of these drills were insufficient. According to the regulations on work safety, plans should be made to ensure that for every one square meter in any such underground establishments, a 25-meter-long drill hole should be made. We are talking about a tunnel with a 14-square-meter cross-section. Therefore, at least 14 drill holes should have been made and each of them should have been dug as far as 25 meters. Yet our findings indicate that each of the drill holes were only 10 meters deep and only seven drill holes were created. This means that the number of drill holes and the dissipation of methane gas was inadequate. The uncontrollably quick release of methane gas has cost the lives of eight workers.”

Labor Minister Faruk Çelik stated that the ministry’s inspectors have identified five shortcomings by the subcontracting firm and its related facility in the inspection conducted on Nov. 16, 2012. The necessary warnings were issued about these shortcomings and a risk assessment was requested. Moreover, the company was fined.

Is fining the only measure to be taken against a company which suffers from such great shortcomings although it is operating in a dangerous sector? Is this a shortcoming of the legal system or was there negligence in imposing sanctions? Is it that hard to take enough measures and overhaul this sector in which we see several fatal accidents every year?

The worst thing is that if two workers instead of eight had lost their lives in this accident, then this issue would not even have been brought to the public’s attention. The main goal of a civilized country is to ensure the survival of its people, isn’t it?

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