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The year 2014 to go down in history for “workplace murders”

The year 2014 will be remembered as one of the deadliest years for work-related accidents in Turkish history because of the unfortunate number of incidents caused by work safety lapses.

This year Turkey has had one of the world’s worst workplace safety records, as lax safety standards exacerbated by negligence by the government and employers led to the deaths of hundreds of workers, while leaving hundreds of others injured or disabled. The disastrous year will also stand out in Turkish history as one where hundreds of victims’ families were also left in need of state aid.

A decade of rapid growth has fueled a construction boom in Turkey; however worker safety standards have failed to keep pace. The country had the highest rate of worker deaths in Europe and the world’s third highest in 2012, according to the International Labour Organization (ILO). Recent figures show that Turkey failed to make any progress in improving its bleak record in 2013 and 2014.

On May 13 the deadliest mining disaster in Turkey’s history claimed the lives of 301 miners in Soma, Manisa province. Four months after the Soma incident, which was Turkey’s worst-ever industrial disaster, 10 workers were killed when an elevator plunged 32 floors at a construction site in İstanbul’s Mecidiyeköy district. Another major industrial accident occurred at a coal mine in the Ermenek district of Karaman province on Oct. 28. A total of 18 miners were killed in the incident.

Turkey has garnered international attention for a spate of fatal workplace accidents, particularly in the mining and construction sectors, in the last few years. More workers continued to die in job accidents every month this year even though the authorities continue to say necessary safety measures have been taken at workplaces. This is why most critics refer to worker deaths in Turkey as “workplace murders,” citing widespread negligence by employers and the government’s delayed and inefficient response to improving safety conditions in Turkish workplaces. The lack of adequate monitoring of facilities is the main cause of accidents, with inspections of workplaces having fallen by 70 percent over the last 10 years, according to data on the issue.

The Turkish government announced measures ranging from financial penalties to prison terms for those found liable in fatal workplace accidents six months after the Soma disaster. Most labor unions said these measures did not go far enough in addressing the safety flaws at workplaces, while accusing the government of still showing too much tolerance for employers who fail to take the required precautions to stop laborers from being hurt or even killed.

The unions use the Soma mine as an example. Separate reports investigating the cause of the accident showed that there was no refuge chamber in the mine and that the mine operator did not provide workers with functioning gas masks. Despite the national outcry, those responsible for Soma, Ermenek and Mecidiyeköy have not yet been brought to account.

Workers continue to be killed

Turkey has the highest number of work-related deaths in Europe, with 12,686 in the last 12 years. Today, the country has a daily average of 170 work-related accidents, with four deaths and five workers losing the ability to work included in those numbers, according to official data. This average ranks the highest among European countries and the third highest in the world.

Industrial accidents have become frequent occurrences in Turkey. Before Today’s Zaman went to print on Wednesday two workers had died following accidents at two construction sites. Gökhan Akçin (28) lost his life after he fell from the third floor of a building under construction in Ordu province. In the second deadly workplace accident on Wednesday, Ali Demirci (53) was killed when heavy construction material fell on him from the 11th floor of a building site.

Earlier on Tuesday two separate job accidents claimed one worker’s life and severely injured another.

Hüseyin Başar (40), a laborer at a plastics factory, died after large plastic pipes fell on him in Şanlıurfa on Tuesday. On the same day, construction worker Recep Karadağ (43) almost lost four fingers after an elevator plunged a few floors at his work site in Kayseri. He was required to be hospitalized and his fingers had to be reattached.

Compared to European Union countries, Turkey fares dismally, with a frequency of job accidents that is seven to eight times higher than the EU average.

According to a report released by the İstanbul Workers’ Health and Job Safety Union, 1,100 people died in work-related accidents in the first seven months of 2014. The report reveals that the highest number of work-related deaths since January of this year occurred in the mining sector. The lack of safety regulations in Turkish workplaces has also been the subject of EU accession reports.

Despite several deadly accidents in the construction sector since the beginning of the year, Parliament only approved an ILO convention aimed at improving workplace safety for construction workers in November. It took Parliament seven months to ratify the ILO convention on safety and health in mines following the Soma disaster.