Workplace Accidents and Their Social Consequences

Workplace Accidents and Their Social Consequences

While rapid technological developments facilitate human welfare on the one hand, it also endangers human life and the environment. Each time a new substance, a new machine, vehicle and equipment enters a production process, it poses a threat to human health, workplace safety, environmental health and safety. In a way, an increase in the welfare returns as accidents at work, occupational illnesses and environmental pollution to humanity.

Depending on a fast-growing industrialization, the lack of necessary precautions at workplaces, work accidents which increase with each passing year, occupational diseases and environmental pollution have reached a threatening point for the human and environmental health. At this point, capital leverage and self-renewal processes both at the global and the national level are essential to comprehend. While big businesses show a tendency to merger for their global operations, national level businesses, on the other hand, protect their market share during this period by increasing their flexibility. For this purpose, companies head for a split-off, through which they have independent, smaller and more units that work outside of the central control, an exclusion of the activities of smaller units from the available funds, subcontracting small businesses and developing within flexible organizations (Yılmaz, 2009: 58; Önal, 2001: 9). There is an expectation for an increase in this trend in the future and the emergence of adverse working conditions due to de-unionization which will result in the biased information and lower wages. Particularly in the developing countries, it is appeared that employees are excluded from social security in the workplaces where the number of workers remains below a certain figure (ILO, 1998: 42).

Pecuniary losses and intangible damages resulting from the work accidents and occupational illnesses constitute a major obstacle for the development projects of the developing countries. The invoices that need to be paid constitute a significant proportion of these countries’ gross domestic product (GDP). Some sources indicate that the total cost of work accidents and occupational illnesses changes by the 1% and 3% of the GDP rate of the industrialized countries (ILO, 2009). As a result of the accidents at work, the losses solely within the social security system are estimated to be approximately 4 million TL (Social Security Institution, Statistics Report, 2006).  According to GDP rates in 2007 provided by Turkish Statistical Institute (TUIK), the cost of work accidents in our country amounts to approximately 35 million TL in one year (Ministry of Labour and Social Security, 2009-2013, p.3).

Healthier and safer work environment is a prerequisite of a more efficiency during working as well. Particularly in the developing countries, occupational health and safety are one of the determining factors of the social development.

With the introduction of the Labour Act Law No. 4857 in 2003 and Occupational Health and Safety Act No. 6331 in 2012, Occupational Health and Safety legislation changed radically and approximately 50 regulations and notifications were published together with these regulations. The fact that the legislation is new and it does not represent the consensus of the parties has brought about certain problems in practice. The new legislation that it does not represent the consensus of the parties has conveyed some problems in practice. As one of the most significant issues of working life, sufficient precautions are not taken regarding occupational health and safety. However, occupational health and safety policies are directly proportional to that country’s safety policies. In the countries with weak economies, where the necessities of the concept of the welfare state are not applied, occupational health and safety display a slower development comparing to the developed countries.

Turkey comes into the forefront in terms of the workplace accidents. Moreover, in parallel with the globalisation process, the ratio of privatisation, deunionization and subcontracting, in short, the ratios of occupational illnesses and of the work accidents, which are increased due to child employment and illicit employment without any kind of safety and social security structures, are higher than those published in the official statistical reports. Statistics of the Social Security Institution (Sosyal Güvenlik Kurumu – SGK)  merely cover registered workers. If we consider the illegal workers and non-SGK employees in our country, it is quite clear that these figures will be higher than the ones in statistics of the SGK if the unreported occupational accidents are included. According to statistical data, 72 % of the workplace accidents occur in businesses employing less than 50 workers (SGK Annual Statistics, 2009-2010). A large proportion of the employers consider the protection of the workers that is to say taking necessary precautions for the employee health and safety as a cost factor. Employers should not be expected to fulfil the responsibilities for taking statutory measures by themselves. In the past few years, employers employing workers on a service contract for a timescale, expanding part-time work, rapid outsourcing, subcontracting work, increasing work from home, have been attempting to divide the businesses and workers into small units and to eliminate unions. Consequently, it has been difficult to carry out inspections and to follow the necessary precautions (Karadeniz, pp. 23-24).

Work Accidents in the Mining Industry

The mining sector, being special by its own nature, containing risks, whose minimization requires knowledge, experience, expertise and constant supervision, connected to each other and being able to trigger each other as a chain effect in a given negative situation, is the world’s most difficult and risky job sector. Particularly in our country, where the working conditions lack of the standard technology and most of works are labour-intensive , the existing or potential weaknesses in the supervision chain of knowledge-experience-expertise lead to ruptures in this chain, causing workplace accidents, especially intense underground coal mining accidents. Coal mining, is located at the forefront of all sectors in the rankings of the accidents and fatalities per number of workers. In Turkey, while 43 miners died as a result of the work accidents, this figure increased to 92 in 2009. In 2010, 105 workers; in 2011, 77 workers; in 2012; 61 workers and in 2013, 68 workers lost their lives due to mining accidents. Those who lost their lives also include mining engineers (The Chamber of Mining Engineers of Turkey The Statistics on Work Accidents).

The mining disaster in Manisa-Soma on May 13, 2014 that resulted in the death of 301 people is the biggest work-related accident in our country considering its consequences. The mine, where the mine fire led to the death of 301 miners, has a license held by General Directorate of Turkish Coal (Türkiye Kömür İşletmesi – TKI)  with no. 4009 and it is located in the Eynez Soma district court Karanlıkdere as an underground lignite mine. It was taken over from Park Teknik-Electricity-MiningTourism Industrial and Commercial Incorporated Company by Soma Coal Enterprise within the framework of the Transfer Protocol for General Directorate of Turkish Coal Enterprises Aegean Lignite Pit (TKİ Genel Müdürlüğü Ege Linyitleri İşletmesi Müessesesi Müdürlüğü Eynez Yeraltı Sahalarının Kömür Üretimi İşi Devir Protokolü);

The causes of the fire are still unclear. This is because a detailed expert report could not been prepared. The information obtained so far indicates that the incident is related to combustion of the coal by itself. Due to the reactivation of the blaze, which probably occurred during the previous manufacturing (in the area where the production has been carried out before), the mine fire started approximately 1350 m away from entrance of the mine, where the main airway passage is divided between north and south, near the intersection point and on the main ramp. The fire grew as it spread onto wooden material and rubber band conveyors. During the blaze and fire stage, the dose of released CO into the environment was enough to poison workers.

Around 2.30 pm and 3.00 pm, the severity of the situation was noticed and intervened, but once realizing the seriousness of the situation, neighbour businesses were asked for support. Around 5.00pm, after the evacuee workers unloaded through the air inlet, the air direction was reversed, meanwhile rescue teams at the national level were sent into the city. Following the rescue efforts, 301 miners, most of whom -209 workers- were at the S panel, were found dead.

Wishing that important lessons are learnt and such accidents will not be repeated again, I commemorate the mining engineers who lost their lives and send my condolences to their relatives.

Mechanization in the mining sector has not been fully achieved in our country. Legislation is not sufficient, and inspection is not being conducted in the way it should so.  Additionally, the frequent changes in legislation cause a disadvantage. These conditions increase the number of work-related accidents.

In countries with developed mining culture like Germany, Canada and Australia,  the settlement of legislation and strict compliance with it as well as the acceptance of work safety culture by all of the employees constitute one of the reasons for scarcely any work accidents in such countries. The implementation of the inspections by making no concessions and lessons learnt from the accidents in the past years together with the increase in the frequency of education sessions generate a key element for the prevention of the work accidents.

The main objective of the occupational health and safety is to create an environment where all workers will not meet accidents under no circumstances and to ensure all conditions that may cause an accident are disposed of the working environment.

The legislation created for the implementation of the occupational health and safety system in Turkey is inadequate and ineligible to solve systematic problems. Where everything remains on the official papers and anything is implemented, it is not possible to execute the occupational health and safety system.The worker health depended upon the employer under the law no. 6331 and joint health to security services and the right to buy from security units, in essence means outsourcing the workers’ health and security system.

One of the fundamental causes of the mining accidents derives from the system which is unable to produce information and standard technology and which adopts an easy model of production, that is cheap labor without social security, in orderto be able to compete in the global  market. Considering capital accumulation conditions and even the original structure of the mining industry, the economic system in Turkey is structurally a system that is doomed to produce ‘accident’. Long working hours, lowering labour costs, concessions made to the occupational health and safety considered as costs, in the name of growth and competitiveness in the global market, bring along adverse working conditions and work accidents.

It is obvious that the view that everything within the category of labour costs (wages, severance pay, workers’ safety and work safety measures etc.) threatens ‘growth and stability’ – concepts that have become a myth – is still prevalent in both the national employment strategy document and the national industry strategy.

Soma disaster has become a negative and painful symbol possessing the experiences of all these dynamics. After the disaster, the process to find a criminal and a victim has started as always, in order to appease the reactions against the massacre. Right after the disaster, the Attorney General stated that “those who we were going to take into custody died with the workers.” This statement indicates a desire to solve and conceal the problems related to the system by accusing a few engineers of the disaster which was created by the system itself. This situation does not eliminate the legal liability of the company, relevant government institutions and ministries along with administration in this tragedy.

 There is no doubt that revealing the causes of the accident, determining the responsibilities are important, but not sufficient for the prevention of the future disasters. To prevent work-related accidents and occupational diseases hereafter, at workplaces, the understanding of ‘first human, first health and first occupational safety’ has to be implemented and at all stages, the priority should be given to occupational health and safety.

In this regard, all the actors in the mining sector have a duty. To construct a new system; an organization of a workshop straight away with the equal participation of Ministry of Energy and Natural Resources, Ministry of Labour and Social Security, Universities, Trade Unions and  Professional Chamber members, where mentioned solution offers can be discussed and new offers can be developed, seems vital.  Ensuring the immediate implementation of the decisions undertaken in this workshop, as regards the prevention of work-related accidents hereafter are deemed to be principal and most significant steps.

Remembering that every moment lost prepares ground for new work-related accidents, not to experience a new Soma, starting work right now stands as a historical task in front of those concerned.

Mehmet Torun, Member of Board of Directors, Union of Chambers of Turkish Engineers and Architects

Please cite this publication as follows:

Torun M.  (October, 2014), “Workplace Accidents and Their Social Consequences”, Vol. III, Issue 10, pp.6-13, Centre for Policy Analysis and Research on Turkey (ResearchTurkey), London, ResearchTurkey. (http://researchturkey.org/?p=6985)

 

References

Karadeniz, O., 2012/3. Work Accidents and Occupational Diseases in Turkey and the World and the Lack of Social Security. Work and Society, 34, pp. 17-75.

<http://calismatoplum.org/sayi34/oguz%20karadeniz.pdf>

[Accessed on 2nd October 2014]

Önal, B., 2001. Effects of the Globalization on Occupational Health, the Impressions from the 26th International Occupational Health and Safety Congress, the Turkish Medical Association. Occupational Health and Safety Journal, January, pp. 8-12.

Yılmaz, F., 2009. Occupational Health and Safety in Globalizing and Developing countries and in Turkey. International Journal of Human Sciences, 6:1, pp. 45-72.

<http://www.j-humansciences.com/ojs/index.php/IJHS/article/view/562>

[Accessed on 2nd  October 2014]

From Websites

Chamber of Mining Engineers of Turkey (Türkiye Maden Mühendisleri Odası Birliği – TMMOB) Statistics

Chamber of Mining Engineers of Turkey (Türkiye Maden Mühendisleri Odası Birliği – TMMOB) Report on Work Accidents, 2010

International Labour Organization (ILO)

Ministry of Labour and Social Security, Republic of Turkey National Occupational Health and Safety Policy Document II (Draft Document) 2009-2013, p.3

Social Security Institution (Sosyal Güvenlik Kurumu – SGK) Statistics

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