Turkey’s Deadliest Workplace Disaster

529731602On Tuesday, an explosion at a coal mine in Soma, Turkey created a fire which trapped hundreds of workers underground. With as many as 200 still trapped inside, any hope of finding more survivors is beginning to diminish. So far, 245 have been confirmed dead, and all autopsies performed up to this time show carbon monoxide poisoning as the cause of death. One of the victims is believed to be a fifteen year old boy which has, among other things, raised concerns about the conditions in Turkish coal mines. It is speculated the explosion was caused by a faulty power transformer. The Labor and Social Security Ministry of Turkey insists the mine had been inspected five times since 2012, the last inspection being in March of this year. Although no safety violations were reported, there are claims workers’ complaints to management regarding conditions in the mine have been ignored for quite some time. The mine is owned by Soma Holding and today, protests provoked by the disaster have erupted outside its headquarters in Istanbul. Protestors have also gathered in Ankana, the capital, to express their extreme disapproval of the country’s safety regulations and of the actions of their Prime Minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan. After a previous mining disaster in Turkey killed 30 workers in May 2010, Erdogan was less than sympathetic when he stated it was the “profession’s fate”.

Prime Minister Erdogan
Prime Minister Erdogan

It is unclear how many have been rescued as reports from news sources vary wildly; However, at least 88 rescues have been confirmed. The exact number of workers in the mine at the time of the explosion is also unknown, as it took place during a change in shifts, but is estimated to be 787. Rescue at this point is nearly impossible due to high levels of carbon monoxide, the possibility of fire still raging in the mine, and power outage caused by the explosion which has made the elevator useless. Until the gas disperses and the fire is extinguished, rescue efforts can not continue. In the meantime, rescue crews are pumping oxygen into the mines in an attempt to sustain survivors until help arrives. The mines are equip with emergency chambers that are stocked with gas masks and oxygen. It is possible some of the workers unaccounted for have sought refuge inside. No matter the fate of those still missing, this has now become Turkey’s deadliest workplace disaster.

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