Human Rights in Ukraine. Website of the Kharkiv Human Rights Protection Group
Social and economic rights

Safety is not just another word


As of the early hours of 10 June, 24 miners have been rescued from the latest mining disaster in the Donetsk region.  There were 37 men in the Karl Marx Mine on Sunday at 5 a.m. when the explosion in the main shaft of the 110-year-old mine occurred.  The search is still continuing for the other 13 men.

Other miners have claimed that the State Industrial and Mining Inspectorate had placed a ban on extracting coal back on 6 June, but that underground work had continued for two days until the blast.  Official reports seem to be suggesting that the men were engaged in maintenance work only.  The Secretary of the National Security and Defence Council states that various reasons are being investigated, including infringements of safety regulations, safety equipment not working and the human factor.

A lot is being said at the moment about the need for safety. The President is criticizing the Government for lack of measures, and just about everybody is calling for an inquiry.  The latter is clearly needed, but so too is action, not just words. 

According to the State Industrial and Mining Inspectorate, the level of fatalities in the coalmining industry is on average 20% of the total number of deaths in other branches of industry.  That means that one in five of those dying at work is a miner.

The reasons are many including decrepit mines and obsolete equipment.  One major reason is also attitude to safety.

Mykhailo Volynets, Head of the Independent Miners’ Union, told the Ukrainian Service of Deutsche Welle that the reason for the accident was systematic neglect of industry safety norms.

This year’s annual report from human rights organizations pays considerable attention to industrial safety or its lack.  The report has not been made public however we are not revealing any secrets since much the same criticisms have been made for a number of years now. 

The conditions are appalling and observance of safety norms weak.  It is a question of will, to some extent, since the norms exist in labour legislation, they are simply ignored.  Will is needed from the authorities to ensure that safety norms are adhered to, but also that measures are taken to ensure that the conditions and equipment are modernized.

Another vital prerequisite for any real change is that those really guilty of breaching safety norms are punished.  At present, it is largely the major accidents which hit the headlines, while many accidents in all industrial areas are covered up.

Over 100 people died in November last year in the Zasyadko Mine in Donetsk.  A lot of fine words were spoken then about measures needed.  That presumably is the nature of such disasters.  Only, while the deaths continue and the safety requirements remain on paper, they have a bitterly hollow ring to them.

(Halya Coynash)

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