A scathing official report into the Soma mining disaster in Turkey has revealed negligent practices and a complete disregard for worker safety. The comprehensive analysis shows warning sensors were ignored, safety reports fabricated and ventilation systems faulty. The tragedy in May killed 301 miners.
The much-anticipated 126-page expert report, commissioned by the Turkish public prosecutor, clearly stated the catastrophe was preventable. While eight high-level managers of the mine’s operating company have already been arrested in connection with the tragedy, the report points the finger of blame at almost everyone involved in the mine, including ministry bureaucrats, with the exception of the miners themselves. “The only innocent group is the workers,” said the report.
The Soma mine is owned by a state-owned company Turkish Coal Enterprises (TKI) and operated by a private company, Soma Kömür İşletmeleri A.Ş (Soma Mining, Inc.).
Inspectors were able to capture data from the alert and security systems at the mine during the three months before the tragedy on May 13 this year. The report shows that despite fluctuating carbon-monoxide readings and excessively high temperatures prior to the accident, miners continued to work.
Alarmingly, inspectors also found that most safety records were not consistent with the readings from sensors. They had been regularly fabricated. In some cases, safety records had been copied and pasted from the week before. Inspectors counted a total of 48 gas and 19 CO sensors but many were broken and there was no proper calibration. Even those in use were not properly calibrated to measure gas levels. About 85% of the miners died from CO poisoning.
Crucially, the ventilation system was not adequate to meet the rapid expansion of the mine in recent years and had not been adapted accordingly. The ventilation plans for the mine did not even correspond to the real ventilation system underground. The report blames poor ventilation for actually accelerating the loss of life, as it was unable to reverse the flow of CO underground creating a death trap for the miners. It also blames the ventilation system as a “very negative factor” in rescue efforts.
Kemal Özkan, assistant general secretary at IndustriALL Global Union, led a global solidarity mission to Turkey in the wake of the Soma mine disaster. “The senseless disregard for miners’ safety on the part of owners, management and government almost beggars belief. Lives have been sacrificed for lies,” Özkan said. “As a result, the industrial homicide at Soma left 301 miners dead and 432 children without fathers. The report brings nothing but shame on the Turkish coal mining industry.”