16 May 2014
Fatal Accident at Work Caused Deaths of Over 200 Turkish Miners
We have all seen or read the difficult and tragic news about the mining disaster that killed more than 200 workers in Turkey. Much is being said about the dangers that exist for mine workers in that country, as demonstrations amongst the population now indicate. Turkey is a particularly dangerous country in which to be a miner.
According to statistics compiled by the International Labour Organization, 1,172 mining deaths were reported in Turkey in 2001-2012. That's about 100 deaths a year. A report in March by the state-run Statistics Institute says 10.4 % of all work accidents are related to mining.
It seems that fatal injury statistics indicate that Turkish numbers are high compared to those reported by most other mining nations. For example, Britain, whose mining sector historically has had a high number of fatalities, only saw an average of 6 mining deaths annually in 2007-2012, according to safety officials. That was just 1% of all work-related deaths in Britain during that time; no doubt partly explained by both the decline of the industry generally, but also increased health & safety standards.
Turkish mines are notoriously unsafe because of a number of factors: cultural attitudes toward workplace safety, and poor oversight of working conditions and safety standards. It speaks volumes that Turkey hasn't ratified the International Labour Organization's Safety and Health in Mines Convention. There is also a low level of organisation among Turkish miners which is another contributing factor. Workers are well supported by our Trade Unions in the UK, and this makes an enormous difference to workplace safety & welfare.
Perhaps illustrating Turkey's somewhat fatalistic approach to mining disasters, after a mining accident in 2010 that killed 30 miners Prime Minister Erdogan said that death was part of the "profession's fate." This is not acceptable language.
Mining always has been a hazardous occupation. I represented workers and families in the mining industry for many years in the 1980s and 1990s. Safely removing the coal from a mine is challenging because coal is often found between soft layers of rock that are prone to cave-ins. Additionally, mining operations can result in the release of noxious or explosive gases and potentially explosive coal dust. Operating heavy machinery in dark and cramped conditions deep underground presents additional risks.
We can only hope that lessons can be learned, and that Turkey’s ambition to join the EU might see it adopt EU regulations to tighten up the industry so that many more lives are not lost in the future.
In UK fatal accident claims, compensation can be claimed for injuries arising from negligence and breach of duty. It is unlikely that Turkish law is sufficiently supported by regulations that will allow families to claim compensation for the deaths of their loved ones to the same extent as in the UK, which adds further insult to the tragedy that the families now face.
For information about the law relating to fatal accidents in the UK, and to understand how the fatal accident claim process works, please see our fatal accident factsheet.
Tracey Graham is a Personal Injury Solicitor specialising in employer liability claims at Slater and Gordon Lawyers in Manchester.
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