Soma Mine Disaster and the Reality of Privatization

Soma Mine Disaster and the Reality of Privatization

Recently, Turkey has been shocked by mine accidents with severe casualties one after the other. According to official figures, 301 coal mine workers died during the fire and mine land disaster on 13th of May 2013 in the coal mine facility owned by Soma Coal Company in Eynez, located near the town of Soma in Manisa Province of Turkey. The disaster firstly attracted attention to the privatization policies, which are applied especially after 1980s in Turkey and in the world with substantial public support. It also caused public indignation by revealing the irregular policies of deregulation/liberalization pertained to the developing countries and the insatiable greed behind this. Just after 6 months following the calamity in Soma, Turkish people faced with other mine accidents resulted in deaths of mine workers in Sirnak, Bartin and lastly in Karaman/Ermenek.

In this paper, the investigations and findings of Chamber of Electrical Engineers on Soma disaster will be revealed since it is the biggest mine accident among others and it can be evaluated as a prototype. Then, the criticisms and suggestions on privatization-liberalization policies in mining and energy sectors will be shared.

Soma Investigation Findings

Chamber of Electrical Engineers Committee arrived to locus in quo at 10 pm –approximately seven hours after the accident- to conduct investigation related to the mine disaster and they were the first independent group who informed the public about the disaster. Our team observed a significant coordination problem among the state institutions in terms of crisis management. Although our team could not make investigations in the mine due to the ongoing search and rescue work, they found an opportunity to enter into the automatisation control room of the mine and documented the automatization system via video records.

According to the first examinations of the committee, regarding the information obtained from the mechanical and mining engineers and also mineworkers who work in the facility, a coal seam fire and a partial landslide caused by the fire occurred in the 700th meter of the mineshaft. Since fans were blowing fresh air to the mine, the smoke effect of the fire accelerated. According to the obtained information, directions of these fans were changed after a long time, and in the meantime several mineworkers were affected by the smoke and fire. These findings contradict with the first public statements which claimed the fire was originated from electrical malfunctioning. Again, regarding the first examinations, substantial deficiencies of the facility were revealed due to the discussions on the origin of incident.(1) These include insufficiency in ventilation, early detection, personal security equipments, escape ways, special life areas…Our Chamber shared their findings with the public through social media on the same day and with a press release on the day after. (2)

Statements of the Chamber of Mining Engineers and also the statement made by the firm(3) in the press meeting on 17.05.2014 affirmed our Chamber’s findings, by confirming  that the massacre happened because of CO poisoning originated from the oxidation of coal. (4) The same findings were shared in detail in the report of official commission which was completed in September. (5) As one can see clearly in pages of 27-38 in the mentioned report, from March 2014 to the moment of accident, although the sensors were measuring the CO levels 10 times more than the legal amount in certain areas of the mine, neither necessary reporting has been done nor preventive actions had been taken. In the page of 87 in the same report, it is indicated that the calibration of the gas sensors had not been made for the accredited institutions to check. Another remarkable point in the report is that, according to the commission of expertise’s second exploration on 16th of July 2013, the coal kept burning in the accident zone although the mine stayed closed for a long time (page of 119 of the same report).

The officers of EMO (Chamber of Electrical Engineers) had been in the mineshaft at intervals for 2 weeks; and in the meantime, besides informing the public, they were in search for detailed information on the origins of the accident. Within this framework, EMO joined the visual documentation of the interviews made with the mineworkers who were present in search and rescue activities, by cooperating with Çağdaş Hukukçular Derneği (Progressive Lawyers Association). The interviews made with the workers once more confirmed the fact that the facility had substantial problems on the worker health and labour safety conditions. Despite the warnings of technician-level mineworkers especially in terms of the ventilation topology of the mine, it appeared that necessary precautions were not taken.

 sema en

The lack of bypass(6) line -shown with red dotted line in the drawing made by us – from the panels, in which numerous workers were working, to air outlet annihilates the zoning(7) opportunity which might offer substantial flexibility in the instance of poisonous-suffocative – explosive gas outlet. This is a vital deficiency in terms of the air management. Considering the ways how the accident occurred; the continuation of the release of fresh air for a long time after the CO gas disclosure caused both the spread of fire and of gas which diffused to capillary vessels of the mine due to the lack of zoning system.

We can summarize the findings in few headings as following;

  1. It is clear that the management and air topology of the mine is problematic. It is clear that with a modern fan, damper and automatization system, any accident could have been isolated.
  1. The number of sensors to measure the temperature, O2, CO2, CO, Methane etc. level in the mine is significantly insufficient and they are connected with a rudimentary automatisation system. Moreover there is no controlling system, which connects the sensors, dampers, fans to actuators. All controls are made manually.  However, the automatization technologies such as ex-proof(8) and fail-safe(9) which connects all the sensors and actuators to a central controlling system are in use in many sectors such as petro-chemistry and energy. Moreover there is a significant literature and know-how on technologies, which can connect all the equipments (even all the mineworkers with electronic chips) in the mine with intercommunication technologies such as Zigbee that can continue to operate even during a fire or a landslide.
  1. Since the camera system in the mine was very old and insufficient, a video record could not have been taken in the instance of accident from most of the cameras. Furthermore SCADA(10) and alarm logging(11) system, which can monitor all the sensors, fans, engines and even people online and record those for 24 hours, were missing in the mine.
  1.  During the accident, it is obvious that there was problem with the use of equipments and their up-to-dateness. Most of the mineworkers died before being able to use those equipments. The direct relation of the situation, which is explained above in general terms, with the privatization of mining sector is the topic of the next section in the article.

Short Evaluation on the Consequences of Privatization in Energy and Mining Sector

As a reaction and solution to the big economic crisis of capitalism starting in 1970s, privatization and marketization policies were brought to agenda in every part of the world. (12) Especially the energy and mining sectors, which were considered as fundamental infrastructure services and natural monopolies13) and thus were accordingly, owned by public administration, acquired currency in the agenda of privatization since they were highly demanded, profitable and irreplaceable sectors.

At this point, the nepotism of government in public administration was put forward as a bad example to encourage privatization of fundamental infrastructure services. Likewise, the dominant claim was that, the private sector is able to manage these domains more efficiently, the service quality can increase with the privatization, and the decrease in the state power is an indispensable prerequisite for modern society and efficient economy. It would be appropriate to make a short explanation on this claim, which is still influential and accepted by a large segment of the society.
Firstly it is needed to mention that efficiency is a phenomenon which is determined by the internal indicators of an enterprise. Hence, taking inefficiency of public administration or intrinsic efficiency of private sector in management for granted is nothing but an illusion. There is no significant scientific evidence, which reveals a correlation between private ownership and efficiency. (14) A public administration can be really efficient while a private sector management can be inefficient; moreover especially considering the frequent shutdowns of privately owned firms it can be considered as the reality.

In a similar way, it is crucial to understand that fundamental infrastructural sectors such as mining and energy have the characteristics of the natural monopolies, that a centralized management of these fields is obligatory from the perspective of scale economies, and that public administration and non-profit management of these sectors, in which knowledge accumulation on the higher levels together with precautions for occupational safety and health are necessary, is vital for the entirety of the economy. (15)

Since the 1980’s mining sector’s structure has been altered by rapid waves of privatization, sub-contracting (16), and royalty-tendering (17) in Turkey. Public mining has been minimized, and several decades’ worth of accumulated mining knowledge and experience in the public institutions has been dispelled. (18) Facts and reasons such as the dominant presence of inexperienced and unspecialized companies -with inadequate infrastructural and technical expertise- in the mining sector, enforcement of overproduction for the sake of profit but without any regard for public benefits, long working hours, unhealthy working conditions and lack of sufficient and effective governmental inspection paved the way to disasters such as Soma.

Soma disaster’s findings draw a clear picture of the point reached through privatization policies in mining and energy sectors. It is our opinion that disasters in Şırnak, Bartın and Karaman are yet again other grievous proofs that the total structure we are trying to portray above is neither singular nor unique to Soma. The last part of the paper will present short term and long term suggestions regarding the mining sector.

Suggestions on the Restructuring the Mining Sector

  • General Directorate of Turkish Coal (TKI) should revoke all contracts regarding subcontracting and service procurement, and all the personnel working in these companies should be transferred to work directly under TKI. Workers should be provided job securities and the right to unionize. Workers operating underground should be governed through mechanisms that rely on self-management models instead of local chiefs employed by sub-contractors called “dayıbaşı” (19). In case of an accident or an emergency, evacuations should be undertaken and led by those mentioned mechanisms.
  • The production process in all mines should be halted until safe and secure working conditions are sustained while protecting worker’s rights. To ensure the security in mines, preventive works should be done with minimum personnel in investigation periods. To ensure safety and to fix physical deficiencies in the mine, physical improvements and employee training should be fulfilled. All the problems which were not fixed because of production pressure such as repair and maintenance should be solved. Examination should be made in every mine by an independent technical committee including experts from the institutions and trade associations such as Chamber of Mining Engineers and EMO. The deficiencies should be specified according to scientific measurements and should be fixed under the surveillance of these committees. After stopping the production, the work force and public resources should be spent to resolve the deficiencies under the guidance of scientific committee.
  • Certain provisions should also be made to prevent possible energy shortage during the period of improvement works. Importing should be considered as a solution to provide coal to residences and industry in the meantime. To procure supply security despite the possible deficit regarding the electric production, diversification opportunities should be researched –especially renewable ones-. In case of insufficiency of renewable resources, for native coal-fired power plants, a temporary plan on coal and electric import should be considered.
  • The warning and fire systems which are present in facilities in low-risk group and even in regular buildings are vital to save lives in the instances of accident. In mines, all the technological resources should be used. To comply with the international standards and to follow technological progress, a permanent committee should be formed with the involvement of chambers linked to Union of Chambers of Turkish Architects and Engineers (TMMOB). The decisions of the committee on the use of present equipments and the equipments which will be developed should be implemented by the Turkey Coal Enterprise (TKİ) without concerning the cost.
  • The production in mines should be authorized by TKİ only after the completion of training and improvement works and after the confirmation of an independent committee.
  • The complexities in worker’s safety and work security should be resolved. Legal regulation, which will ensure an efficient and public investigation, should be prepared.

Mahir Ulutaş,  Chamber of Electrical Engineers (EMO) İzmir Branch Chairman

Editor’s Note: Happy Miner’s Day (4 December), without forgetting Soma, Ermenek, all the miners who lost their lives, all laborers who are struggling and the immense sorrow we have gone through.

Please cite this publication as follows:

Ulutaş M. (December, 2014), “Soma Mine Disaster and the Reality of Privatization”, Vol. III, Issue 12, pp.15-23, Centre for Policy and Research on Turkey (ResearchTurkey), London, ResearchTurkey. (


(1)     From these deficiencies which are related to our professional domain, substantial deficiencies are detected in the use of early detection technologies, the control of machine installation and its automatisation. Moreover, according to examinations, the equipment which enables to monitor the temperature in the mineshaft, the level of CO. CO2, O2, CH4 (methane) and accordingly  facilitates the early detection of possible threats, the automatisation/management of ventilation and guidance system and recordings of these operations is not adequately established in the mine.

(2)     EMO (Chamber of Electrical Engineers) Izmir Branch, the press release in 14th of May 2014

(3)     The press release of Chamber of Mining Engineers in 16th of May 2014

(4)     About the aforementioned mine it is known that the coal is very convenient to burn by itself and numerous academic researches were conducted on this issue. See “Eynez Kömürlerinin Kendiliğinden Yanabilirliği ve Havalandırma Sisteminin Ocak Yangınlarına Etkisinin Araştırılması”, Ayhan İvrin Yılmaz, Yrd. Doç.Dr Celal Bayar

(5)     Expert opinion on the mine accident occurred on 13.05.2014 in coal mine situated in Manisa, Soma region, Eynez village and managed by Soma Coal Entreprises, September 2014

(6)     forming a shorter line by avoiding certain sections

(7)     Construct certain areas which can work in itself, departed from other sections

(8)     Explosion proof: The area which is resistant to explosion

(9)     The system which is resistant to the mistakes: A general name for the hardware and software which shut down the system safely and according to prespesified safety scenario in the case of a failure or an accident

(10)     Supervisory Control And Data Acquisition: A  system with an interface enabling to control all the entities in a facility including all the equipment, production planning, environmental control units and auxiliary operations etc.

(11)     Alarm record system: The system which detects the deviations from regular operational procedure, and records them.

(12)     There is an enormous literature on privatization policies and neoliberalism as a whole and the latter’s relation to the big economic depression in 1970s. For example, while David Harvey’s work Yeni Emperyalizm (New Imperialism) (2003; November 2004, Everest Publishing) offers a good summary, with “primitive accumulation” it became an important reference for the contemporary literature on privatization/dispossession and war. Harvey deepens the discussion on the topic with his book “Sermaye Muamması” (The Enigma of Capital and The Crisis of Capitalism) (Sel Publishing). Mustafa Sönmez and Hayri Kozanoğlu’s book “Neler Oluyor Hayatta” (May 2012, Nota Bene) and Sungur Savran’s book “Üçüncü Büyük Depresyon”(November 2013, Yordam) are important Turkish sources with their clear and eloquent style.

(13)     The concept of natural monopoly signifies the domains in which a service cannot be provided by more than one producer due to physical and economic conditions and the sole producer in the domain brings about less societal and financial costs.

(14)     “Mülkiyet-Verimlilik İlişkisi: Uygulamalı(Ampirik) Çalışmalar” (Possession- Efficiency relationship: Empirical Work), Yahya Can Dura, İl Planlama Uzman Yrd. İç İşleri Bakanlığı (Assistant Specialist in Provincial Planning. Ministry of Interior). Erciyes University School of Economics and Administrative Sciences Journal, Issue 26, January-June 2006)

(15)     The structure of this domain does not enable for privatization to bring efficiency. The most efficient one cannot fix the price in sectors in which the supply cannot be provided sufficiently and nature pose limits. Hence to meet the demand, energy and mining sector should have a structure to fix the prize not in the lowest level but in the highest level.

(16)     Subcontracting is a direct consequence of privatization policies in any case. In privatized companies, the strategy became to divide production to different subcontractors since it is an easy way to increase profits. However, in subcontracting system workers are exploited for very limited wages and there is lack of work safety and unionization. Hence this system is a direct assault to working class. Besides that, this process led to the result that the educated human resources and knowhow of the institutions  have being destructed.

(17)     Literally: copyright. Transferring the operating right of mines which belongs to public administration to a private company –with a guarantee of purchase- without changing the ownership structure.

(18)      “2002-2010 Mining Sector Report” and “Mining Sector and Policies Report” (2011) can be reached from the website of the Chamber of Mining Engineers. These detailed reports are important information resources which reveal the dimensions of devastation caused by the privatization process.

(19)     A person who gets commission by intermediating between the employer and worker without any toil.




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One thought on “Soma Mine Disaster and the Reality of Privatization

  1. hıfzı deveci

    Bilgi dolu yazı için yazara teşekkürler.
    Benzeri felaketlerden sonra ve genel olarak ekonomi politikaları ile ilgili tartışmalarda konunun gelip “Özelleştirme” ye dayanması kaçınılmaz bir gelişme. Maden facialarından sonra da öyle oldu. Bu nedenle, sadece bu konuda birkaç cümle söylemek isterim.
    Özelleştirme konusu kapsamlıdır ve tartışmaya da çok açıktır; bir yanıt yazısına sığmaz; o nedenle kısaca şunu belirtmeliyim: Yaşadığımız maden facialarının nedeni “özelleştirme” değildir!
    Türkiye’deki özelleştirme uygulamaları hemen hemen tümüyle yolsuz, usulsüz, kamu zararı doğuran sözleşmelerle yapılmıştır ve yapılmaktadır, bunda kuşku yok. Bazı kritik sektörlerde bazı özel-kamu mal sahipliği dengeleri gereklidir ve bu eşikler yer yer aşılmıştır, bu da doğru. Fakat yine de “madenleri özel sektör işletirse kötü olur, onları devlet işletmelidir!” dediğinizde, dünyadaki uygulamaları yok sayıyorsunuz demektir. Uzatmadan, Almanya örneğini vereyim: İki Almanya birleştiğinde Doğu’daki devlet madenciliği felaketti, Batı’daki özel sektör madenciliğini ise hepimiz biliyoruz. Yeni Almanya’nın ilk yaptığı Doğu madenlerini özelleştirmek olmuştu. (Bu konuda Bkz: Almanya’da Enerji Politikaları ve Kömür Sektörü, Yard. Doç. Dr. Muzaffer Dartan, TMMOB 1. Enerji Sempozyumu-12-14 Kasım1996 Ankara)
    Kömür madenlerinin özel sektörce işletildiği batı ülkelerindeki kaza istatistiklerini tekrarlamayacağım, hepimiz biliyoruz. Şunu açık yüreklilikle söylemeli: Sorun sahiplikte değildir; başka yerlerdedir. Toplumsal tepkisizlikten geri kalmışlığa, kadercilikten bilgisizliğe, fakirlikten ahlaksızlığa kadar pek çok yerde.
    Yaşam odası kamu madenlerinde var mı? Koruma ekipmanları kamu madenlerinde tamam mı? Değil elbette.
    Madenleri özel sektörün işletmesi ölçek ekonomisine aykırı da değildir.
    Son olaylarda ortaya çıkan tablo, derin bir ahlaksızlığı, çürümeyi gösteriyor. Bunun temelinde, ahlaksız siyasetçinin ahlaksız iş adamıyla ahlaksız ortaklığı vardır. Bu ahlaksız ortaklık; her türlü ekonomik yapılabilirliği, işçi sağlığı ve güvenliğini, teknik gereklilikleri ve kuralları, kamu menfaatini göz ardı etmiştir. Olay budur.
    Lütfen, teşhisi doğru koyalım. Özelleştirme uygulamalarını teker teker dosya bazında ele alarak incelemek, eleştirmek doğru bir tavırdır; ama kolaycı ve toptancı bir anlayışla suçu özel sektör sistemine (piyasa ekonomisine) atmamalıyız.
    Teknik önerilere girmek istemem, teknisyenler biliyorlar, ama birini yine de söyleyeyim: Artık 300 metre derinde köstebekler gibi kömür çıkartmaya son vermeliyiz. Açık ocaklara dönmeliyiz. Pahalı olabilir, ama daha güvenli olacaktır.


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