Death went down the Evraz Group mines
15.06.2010 — Analysis
The mine of Evraz Group reported another fatal accident. Trade-union leaders blame the corporate irresponsibility that has evolved at the production facilities of the holding. Experts think that the facilities built during the Soviet time cannot operate under market conditions: the increased labor productivity has boosted the looming number of accidents. As the "RusBusinessNews" observer has found out, the Russian techno-sphere is sending alarm signals, but nobody receives them. Big wheels of the industry find it cheaper to tell society that everything goes fine in the country, rather than to take steps towards prevention of technological disasters.
One month after the severe accident that happened at the Raspadskaya mine and resulted in the death of 90 people, the Evraz Group reported another accident: in June a worker was buried under ore at the Vysokogorsky mining-and-processing integrated works. People die at the mines with frightening regularity: in 2005 and 2007 at the Estyuninskaya mine an electrical fitter and shot-firer died; in 2008 a worker died under a train's wheel at the Magnetitovaya mine; in 2009 an explosion caused death of nine employees at the Estyuninskaya mine. Note that ore mines unlike coal mines (the Raspadskaya mine) are free of methane; therefore, the main reason for the tragedy was violation of technological and labor order.
Mikhail Tarasenko, chairman of the mining and smelting trade-union, reckons that the successive tragedies were caused through the invalid management that over a few years has formed the system of corporate irresponsibility at the production facilities. Safety regulations for mining works are written with blood, which has been proved by Evraz Group managers who within a number of years have ignored four regulatory items at a time. The trade-union leader denies that the mangers' attitude is dictated by insufficient funds for occupational safety: the employer has never brought up this issue. M.Tarasenko states that miners understand perfectly the importance of financing aimed at accident prevention; that is why, should the Evraz Group owners address this issue, they would find whole-hearted support.
Ivan Mokhnachuk, head of the Russian Trade-Union for Coal Industry Workers, thinks that the reason for the managers' negligence of industrial safety should be sought in the Russian law enforcement practice. The present-day legislation is written in such a way that the judge, looking into a manager's liability for an accident can be satisfied with a 5 thousand-ruble penalty or can go farther and put him into jail for ten years. There are no prizes for guessing about the usual choice made by judges "enchanted" by the name of the Evraz Group's boss - Roman Abramovich. Thereby, the trade-union requests that the RF Criminal Code should be more specific and more severe to owners of hazardous facilities. Otherwise, the country will face more accidents and deaths in mines due to the evident malfunction of the safety management system at enterprises.
During the Soviet time, having found a violation, an inspector could, at his own discretion, suspend mining operations. After coal mines were privatized, the inspector's powers, due to efforts of private owners were degraded entailing grave consequences. For example, at the Ulyanovskaya mine (Evraz Group), after increased methane had been detected, the management ordered to realign the data, following which the computer disconnects equipment in case of explosion hazard - the explosive limit was voluntarily overrated. The result was as follows - 110 died, and the government had to bear part of the blame for their death, as it failed to control the situation in the industry.
Down in the mine, the picture of a potential disaster will come to the fore in a 3D format. After the collapse of the USSR, the entrepreneurs decided against building fundamental vertical shaft mines with the system of workings around them, preferring either to operate old Soviet structures, or bore inclined shafts in the beds lying close to the surface. As a result, many shaft mines turned into an extensive network of workings that are difficult to ventilate. Based on physical and chemical laws, increased production causes higher amounts of methane discharging from the bed. The occupational safety regulations require drilling of vertical shafts to ventilate the mines as it was done in the Soviet time; however, it is a long and costly process, and the price for coal is soaring: no time to think about safety when money must be made rather than invested in safety.
The Raspadskaya mine that belongs to Evraz Group used to be one of the best in the industry; the operational management was much better as compared to the Ulyanovskaya mine, but it also exploded. Ivan Mokhnachuk explains this by designers' faults: construction methods applied for mines must be improved. However, experts tend to be skeptical about the almighty engineering ingenuity.
Alexander Grazhdankin, head of the quantitative risk assessment department at the STC "Industrial Safety", stated that production cannot be developed infinitely. Accidence growth has resulted in stagnated coal production in developed countries - the sole exception is the USA where coal seams lie close to the surface. The safety problems have exacerbated the conflict between the capital and labor, including the United States. The Americans have opted for alternative energy sources, seeing their exploration as a much better choice than mutual destruction. Unfortunately, developing countries do not share the same caring attitude to the human life; therefore, in China, India, Vietnam, Kazakhstan, and Russia the coal production is increasing, though the number of accidents is growing at an exponential rate. The expert thinks that it will go on until the time comes.
In Russia, the never-ceasing alarm bells toll. Having restructured the coal industry in the 90s and having cancelled Soviet regulations, the RF government expected that the problem of mining safety would be solved through investment from private owners. However, owners were not going to buy into production: for example, Roman Abramovich prefers to buy football clubs in England and luxury yachts rather that invest in safety of his mines. Experts estimate that the investment deficit in the Russian industry totaled more than 3 trillion rubles over the last fifteen years. The cashing-out of funds, together with the increasing labor productivity in the coal industry that showed a 3.7 gain from 1997 to 2007, resulted in a number of major accidents at mines in 1997, 2004, 2007 and 2010.
Alexander Grazhdankin thinks that manmade disasters remind us that the industrial model of development has a limit. Through their explosions, mines seem to send an alarm signal, which the present-day owners do not want to perceive, to say nothing about receiving it as a guide for action. Business is shrewd at calculations, and long time ago realized that under market conditions when safety is nothing but a product attribute it is cheaper to invest in publicity information than in safety per se.
According to experts, entrepreneurs pull the wool over people's eyes, labeling everything (including manmade entities) as "compliant with all safety standards". To disguise their actions, business people fill the media space with palliative speeches, assuring that everything is going to be OK, and, in any case, the bodies of casualties will be buried properly - and this is the price of today's industrialization.
The elaborate information brainwashing of the population helped to subdue the changed priorities in Russia; now, instead of preventing accidents, the country prefers to eliminate the damage caused by them. Consequently, money goes to the Emergency Situations Ministry rather than to the Federal Service for Ecological, Technological and Nuclear Supervision: the ESM budget exceeds 20 times that of Rostekhnadzor.
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