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Why is mining in Turkey so dangerous?

Miners rested as they awaited their trapped friends outside the mine in Soma, Turkey.

Ahmet Sik/Getty Images

Miners rested as they awaited their trapped friends outside the mine in Soma, Turkey.

The mining accident that killed more than 200 workers in Turkey has underscored the health and safety problems in the country’s mining sector.

Experts say poor oversight from regulators, a weak health and safety culture and an uneducated and unorganized workforce have contributed to making Turkey a particularly dangerous country in which to be a miner.

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Here’s a Q&A that explains some of the biggest problems with mining in Turkey.



More than 3,000 workers have died in mine accidents in Turkey since 1941, mostly from methane gas explosions, mine collapses and fires, according to the state-run Anadolu Agency. More than 100,000 people were injured in those accidents. A report in March by the state-run statistics institute says 10.4 percent of all work accidents are related to mining.

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International comparisons are hard to come by because not all countries collect and report statistics in the same way. But experts say the Turkish numbers are high compared to those reported by most other mining nations. For example, in Britain, whose mining sector historically has had a high number of fatalities only saw an average of six mining deaths annually in 2007-2012, according to safety officials. That was just 1 percent of all work-related deaths in Britain during that time.



Researchers point to a number of factors, including cultural attitudes toward workplace safety and poor oversight of working conditions and safety standards.

For one, Turkey hasn’t ratified the International Labor Organization’s Safety and Health in Mines Convention.

A paper published last year by researchers Yucel Demiral and Alpaslan Erturk at Dokuz Eylul University in Izmir, Turkey, said health and safety inspections in Turkish mines are divided between different authorities, and the lack of coordination among them results in ineffective supervision. Also, their paper points to the lack of education and the low level of organization among Turkish miners as a contributing factor to unsafe working conditions.

Though Turkey’s ambition to join the EU has prompted it to adopt many of the bloc’s health and safety standards, in many cases EU directives have just been translated into Turkish, but not harmonized with local regulations, leading to confusion. As a result, those regulations haven’t been put into practice, their paper says.



Andrew Watson, operations manager at Britain’s Mines Rescue Service, said that attitudes toward safety — putting safety before production — and using technology that warns of dangerous conditions are key to safe mining operations.

In British coal mines, for example, every mining machine has a monitor to measure the level of methane, an explosive gas. When the level reaches a trigger point, the power to the machines is automatically cut off. ‘‘That way you remove the ignition source,’’ Watson said.

Stressing that he didn’t know whether that type of technology was in use in the Turkish mine where the latest accident occurred, he said the frequency of large-scale accidents suggests Turkey has a problem with safety controls. ‘‘Whether it’s faulty equipment or management or supervision, something has gone wrong with the controls,’’ he said.

To illustrate Turkey’s somewhat fatalistic approach to mine accidents, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said after a mining accident in 2010 that killed 30 miners that death was part of the ‘‘profession’s fate.’’



Mining always has been a hazardous occupation, although health and safety standards have been improved significantly in many countries.

Coal mining can be particularly dangerous. 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. Also, the 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.

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