The Effects of the Occupational Health and Safety Legislation Changes on the Work Accidents in Turkey

The Effects of the Occupational Health and Safety Legislation Changes on the Work Accidents in Turkey

Abstract

Although progressive and essential legislation aiming to prevent work accidents has been introduced in Turkey, let alone prevention, there is no noticeable decrease in the number of such accidents. Moreover, the increasing number of work-related accidents and deaths remain as a controversial topic in the country. The purpose of this article is to demonstrate that although a comprehensive transformation of the occupational health and safety measures has been introduced, and relevant legislation in accordance with the European Union standards has been enacted, the number of work accidents and deaths does not display a downward trend parallel to these legislative changes.[1]

Introduction

What is three times more dangerous than war? The answer given to this question by John Lloyd and John Mitchinson in the Book of General Ignorance is ‘work.’ The book argues that while drinking, drugs and armed conflict kill 650,000 people every year, work accidents and occupational diseases kill 2 million people each year; therefore, work brings about three times more lethal consequences than armed conflict.[2] Although it sounds unbelievable at first instance, the data on work accidents unfortunately confirms the statement. Even though many countries have put various laws and regulations into effect and introduced preventive measures in order to prevent work related accidents in recent years, the number of work accidents still remains considerably high. This article first discusses the prominent legal changes concerning occupational health and security that are introduced in Turkey since 2008; then by comparing work accident data over time, it will demonstrates that the work accidents and deaths have not abated despite a number of progressive amendments in the relevant legislation.

The Legal Framework

Looking at the legislative changes in Turkey, there was no up-to-date legislation concerning occupational health and safety until 2003. The only applicable legislation was the Act No. 1475, which regulates the relations between the employer and employees, came into force in 1971. First, Act No. 4857, aiming to update the old law, was enacted in 2003; later, Act No. 6331 on the Occupational Health and Safety and sack law (torba yasa) were brought into effect respectively in 2012 and in 2014. Looking at more recent developments in the last few years, the legal framework on occupational health and safety in Turkey has been often subject to both minor and fundamental amendments.

Certain establishments were legally obliged for the first time to introduce work safety experts with the Act No. 4857 Labour Law. According to the Article 82 of the Act, it became obligatory, depending on the number of the employees, the hazard category and the nature of business, to employ at least one engineer or technical staff charged with taking precautions for work safety, identifying preventive measures against work-related accidents and diseases, and finally with implementing these measures, in industrial establishments where a minimum of 50 workers are permanently employed and where projects during more than six months are realised. In this regard, the following section will summarise some prominent changes in the in the Occupational Health and Safety Legislation introduced after 2008.

2008 Amendments

Occupational health and safety had been considered within the framework of Labour Law until 2012. When we look at the relevant articles of the Labour Law, it becomes clear that the act introduces a general framework and leaves the details to the discretion of the Ministry of Labour and Social Security, which was in charge of issuing further ordinances and regulations.

The first fundamental change in the law has been introduced in 2008 in the Articles 81 and 82. According to the Article 81, the establishments with minimum 50 employees on a permanent basis were previously under the obligation to employ at least one occupational physician and to establish a health unit. The Article 82 stated that the employers were obliged to hire at least one engineer or technical staff who would take work safety precautions, determine the measures –aimed at preventing work-related accidents and diseases–, and follow up their execution within the establishments categorised as industrial, according to the Labour Law, where a minimum of 50 workers are employed on a continuous basis and where projects during more than six months are realised. The aforementioned amendment consolidated these two articles under a single article. In this sense, after the changes in 2008, the Article 82 was abrogated and the Article 81 listed employer obligations in establishments with a minimum of 50 employers as to provide an occupational health and safety unit and to employ one or more occupational physicians and additional health staff if necessary. Additionally, the new legislation introduced the term work safety experts instead of work safety engineers or technical staff, as well as removing the condition of realising projects during more than six months for industrial establishments. Moreover, the new law introduced these obligations for the establishments where 50 permanent workers are employed instead of employers who employ minimum 50 employees; as well as promoting an understanding of work health and safety rather than health at workplace.

The Law on Occupational Health and Safety No. 6331 (20.06.2012) and the Subsequent Amendments

One of the most important features of the Act No. 6331 on Occupational Health and Safety is that work health and safety has been independently codified for the first time. With this act, the work health and safety rights of the employees, as well as the scope of the beneficiaries of these rights were expanded. Upon its promulgation, Articles 77-89 of the Labour Law concerning work health and safety were abrogated and replaced by the relevant articles of the Act No. 6331.

While the Labour Law’s scope was limited to workers, apprentices and inters, the Act No. 6331, extended the scope of protection to cover all the employees in public and private sector jobs and establishments.[3] The main duties and responsibilities to ensure workplace health and safety were indiscriminately assigned to the employers regardless of establishment or employer type. In this sense, the employers were obliged to take necessary measures to prevent risks, control the implementation of these measures, eliminate inconvenient conditions, assess dangers, and finally offer protection against possible dangers. Additionally, the law stated that employers cannot derogate from these responsibilities of work health and safety, even if they receive work safety services from an external company or expert.

Another prominent aspect of the law is that it revoked the condition of employing a minimum of 50 employees for an establishment to be under the obligation of employing an occupational physician and other health staff. Therefore, all establishments were obliged to employ such staff under this law.[4]

The recent amendments to the law in 2014 preserved the obligation to employ a work safety expert and occupational physician but, the obligation to employ health staff was limited to the establishments which have at least 10 employees and that are under the category of ‘high hazard.’ Moreover, students employed under the category of apprentices and interns were excluded from the calculation of the number of employees. With this amendment, a new provision has been added to the relevant article: ‘In low hazard workplaces with less than 10 employees, that do not meet the required qualifications and certification, the employer or his/her representative, on the condition of successfully completing the required training by the Ministry, might provide the work health and safety services, besides the physical inspections conducted at the entry to the job or the periodic checks.

The obligation to establish a work health and safety board at the establishments that perform business categorised as industrial, and where permanent work is performed for more than six months with minimum 50 employees who work continuously, was expanded to cover all businesses with 50 or more employees where permanent work is performed for more than six months.

The framework of this law imposed new duties on the state as well. The main responsibility of the state is to support work health and safety services as described in the Article 7. Since the new law does not make a distinction between small or big scale establishments in terms of safeguarding work health and security, small scaled establishments may request support from the state considering the fact that this situation might create a considerable financial burden. Accordingly, state subsidy allocated to the determined insurance premium for each insured employee older than 16 years old, is equivalent to 1.4% and 1.6% of the minimum daily real wage per day respectively for establishments categorised as hazardous and highly hazardous. Additionally, establishments that can benefit from these subsidies are defined by the law: ‘The businesses classified as very ‘hazardous’ employing fewer than 10 workers, except public institutions and organisations might benefit from state subsidies. However, the Council of Ministers may decide that enterprises employing fewer than 10 workers and classified as ‘less hazardous’ may also benefit from these subsidies.

Work Accidents in Turkey and in the World

When we look at work accidents and related deaths at a global scale, there are approximately 313 million work-related accidents and 6,300 deaths every year. Moreover, 153 workers have an accident at workplace and 1 worker dies as a result, in every 15 seconds worldwide. [5] [6]

The situation in Turkey is unfortunately not very different. Between 2002 and 2013, approximately 2 million workers had workplace accidents and 13,500 have lost their lives. Every day, there are 172 work accidents on average  and 6 employees become permanently incapable of working and 4 workers lose their lives.[7] In 2013, there were 1,235 lethal work accidents; and, after including the Soma mining accident, the number of lethal work accidents reached almost 1,400 within only the first nine months of 2014. Figure 1 illustrates the workplace accidents and work-accident related deaths between 2008 and 2013 according to the statistics of the Sosyal Güvenlik Kurumu (Social Security Institution) (SGK).

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There are a number of facts that are worthy of further attention in this figure. Despite the noticeable decrease in the number of work accidents in 2009 and 2010 compared to 2008, the number of work accident related deaths increased in the same period by 35% and 23%, respectively. In 2011, both the work accidents and related deaths increased compared to the previous year. In 2012, the number of deaths decreased by 56%; yet, the improvement is far from promising since the number of work accidents increased in the same year compared to the previous year. When we look at the data from 2013, the gravity of the situation becomes more evident. The number of work accidents increased massively by 156% in 2013 and the number of deaths increased by 83% compared to the previous year.

When we examine the rate of worker deaths per work accident for the years between 2008 and 2013, the rate which was 1.2% in 2008, increased by 50% in 2009 reaching to 1.8%. In 2010, it increased once again by 28% reaching to 2.3%. This increasing trend continued in 2011 at a rate of 8.7%. In 2012, the rate of worker deaths per work accidents regressed down to 1% and further to 0.7% in 2013. However, as it is obvious from the figure below, the number work accidents and worker deaths did not considerably decrease despite the new legislation.

Work accident severity indicates the total number of lost workdays out of 1 million work hours due to the work accidents, within one calendar year.[8]  A close examination of the data for the period 2007-2013, reveals that the accident severity rate and number of work accidents fail to display a consistent decrease. While the accident severity rate decreased by 18% in 2008 compared to the last year, it increased by 23% in 2009 and this uptrend of work accident severity rate continued further in 2010 and 2011. 2011 witnessed the record high work accident severity of 2007-2013 period, reaching to 721 lost workdays out of 1 million total work hours. Although accident severity regressed to 395 workdays in 2012, it increased once more by 28% in 2013 compared to the previous year.

The horizontal axis of the figure above shows the countries’ workforces in numbers, vertical axis displays the total population for each country and the bubbles represent the number of lethal workplace accidents. According to the figure, both the population and the workforce of Turkey have an average value compared to some of the European Union countries;[9] yet Turkey stands out as the country with most lethal accidents. When compared to countries which have similar population and workforce sizes, such as Italy, France and UK, the number of lethal accidents in Turkey is five times higher than in UK and twice as high as in Italy and France.

When we compare workforces and fatal accidents, the UK has the biggest workforce after Germany; however, fatal accidents are three times less frequent than Germany and five times less than Turkey.  Moreover, the average number of work accidents in these countries for 2012 is 2.5 times less compared to Turkey. There were 576 and 299 fatal accidents respectively in France and in Spain which both have a comparable workforce, whereas the number of such accidents reached to 744 in Turkey. In this regard, according to 2012 data, the highest number of work accidents took place in Turkey compared to other EU countries.

Conclusion

Looking at the overall progress, Turkey has gone through a comprehensive transformation in terms of work health and safety measures especially since 2008. In this sense, Turkey has just recently started to seriously debate the necessary precautions to ensure the security of workers.  Nevertheless, the new legislation in accordance with the EU standards has not prevented work accidents and fatal injuries; and it even failed to generate a stable decrease in such accidents. At this point, work health and security training offers the most cost-effective and efficient solution, since under the given the circumstances, the only option is to minimise the number of work accidents. According to a study, 88% of work accidents occur as a result of reckless behaviour while 10% due to dangerous situations and 2% due to unavoidable situations. Since workers perform highly hazardous jobs every day, over time their routine generates a lack of attention towards their own security. Therefore, it is crucial to provide regular and serious training to those workers in order to make them self-conscious about work safety and fatal accidents. Moreover, it is also important that authorities conduct regular inspections and increase sanctions to ensure that employers and workers are aware of their responsibilities and carry out their duties.

In Turkey, before the Act No. 6331 that came into force in 2012, there was not an independent legislation on occupational health and security. The Labour Law which was enacted in 2003 covered some of the main measures, responsibilities and duties. The law that came into force in 2008 created the obligation to employ a work security expert and an occupational physician as well as to create a workplace health unit for the establishments with minimum 50 employees. However, looking at SGK’s 2010 data, 98% of 1,325,749 establishments in Turkey employ less than 50 employees and the crucial point is that 50% of work accidents take place in these small establishments.[10]

The Act No. 6331 that came into force in 2012, transformed work health and safety to an independent subject in Turkey for the first time. This law revoked the ‘minimum 50 employees’ condition for establishments to be obliged to provide a work security expert, an occupational physician and other health staff. However, this obligation varies from an establishment to another depending on their hazard categories and the relevant legislation will be applicable on different dates.[11] In this sense, the real success of the Act No. 6331 in preventing work accidents can only be assessed in the future upon the full implementation of the act.

Ayşegül Aytaç, TEPAV (The Economic Policy Research Foundation of Turkey)

Please cite this publication as follows:

Aytaç, A. (April, 2015), “The Effects of the Occupational Health and Safety Legislation Changes on the Work Accidents in Turkey”, Vol. IV, Issue 4, pp.62-72, Centre for Policy and Research on Turkey (ResearchTurkey), London, Research Turkey. (http://researchturkey.org/?p=8637)

Endnotes

[1]I would like to thank to G. Zeynep Kılıçkaya for her help and advice on the legislative changes and to Sevim İrey for providing general comments on the article.

[2]Llyoyd, J., Mitchinson, J. (2009). “Book of General Ignorance,” Faber and Faber Ltd.

[3]The exceptions to the law are defined as follows:

  • Activities of the Turkish Armed Forces, the security forces and the Undersecretary of National Intelligence Organisation, except for those employed in workplaces such as factories, maintenance centres, sewing workshops, and the like
  • Intervention activities of disaster and emergency units
  • Domestic services
  • People producing goods and services in their own name and on their own account without employing workers

 Workshop, training, security and vocational course activities within the framework of improvements carried out throughout the detention of convicts and inmates The Act No. 6552 Labour Law dated 10.09.2014 and some other decree laws added a new category to these exceptions:

  • Workers of international maritime cruises

[4]The law suspends the implementation of the article requiring to employ these people depending on the category of the establishment. The previous version of the law states that the Articles 6, 7 and 8 shall enter into force:

  • Two years as of the date of issuance 30.06.2012 for public institutions and enterprises classified as less hazardous, where less than 50 workers are employed
  • One year as of the date of issuance for enterprises which are classified as hazardous and very hazardous, where less than 50 workers are employed.
  • Six months as of the date of issuance for other enterprises

With the amendments dated 12.07.201,  the above mentioned suspensions are extended further as follows:

  • Until 01.07.2016 for Public Institutions and establishments categorized as less hazardous with less than 50 employees except for the establishments with 50 workers employed on a permanent basis Until 01.01.2014 for enterprises with less than 50 workers and categorised as hazardous or very hazardous

[5]ILO, (2014). “Safety and Health at Work.” [Accessed 11 February 2015], Available at:

 http://www.ilo.org/global/topics/safety-and-health-at-work/lang–en/index.htm

[6]ILO, (2013). “The Prevention of Occupational Diseases.” [Accessed 11 February 2015], Available at:

http://www.ilo.org/wcmsp5/groups/public/—ed_protect/—protrav/—safework/documents/publication/wcms_208226.pdf

[7]Ministry of Labour and Social Security (2012). ‘Act No 6331 Occupational Health and Safety Law.’ [Accessed 11 February 2015], Available at: http://www.csgb.gov.tr/csgbPortal/ShowProperty/WLP%20Repository/csgb/dosyalar/kitap/kitap03_6331.

[8]The Annals of the SGK.

[9]Germany, UK, France, Italy, Spain, Norway, Greece, Switzerland, Poland and Netherlands.

[10]Kırımhan, Gökçen. (2012). “İş Sağlığı ve Güvenliğinde Yeni Bir Dönem: 6331 Sayılı İş Sağlığı ve Güvenliği Kanunu.” (A New Era in Occupational Health and Safety: Act No. 6331 on Occupational Health and Safety), Endüstri ve Belgelendirme Bülteni.

[11]See endnote No. 4.

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