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How Turkey’s Mining Industry Can Avoid Past Mistakes: Sago To Soma

From Sago to Soma How Turkey's Mining Industry Can Avoid the Mistakes of the United States
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Turkey's mining industry should look at the events that followed the Sago coal mine disaster before hastily implementing refuge chamber policy.
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Turkey’s mining industry would benefit from looking at the events that followed the Sago coal mine disaster in the US in 2006, where 12 miners died after becoming trapped underground following an explosion and fire.

In the aftermath, rushed legislation made refuge chambers compulsorily in West Virginia underground coal mines – known as the ‘West Virginia’ Ruling (first introduced in West Virginia and then adopted nationwide through MSHA PIB NO. P07-03). However, in its haste, the US mining authorities overlooked vital safety features in chambers, such as the necessity of cooling and the ability to withstand secondary explosions. They also failed to require performance testing on anyone wanting to manufacture and sell refuge chambers into the industry.

Abrupt rulings resulted in unsafe, ill-equipped refuge chambers flooding the market. 

Impact of Hasty Refuge Chamber Regulations to Workers Safety

Opportunist manufacturers ‘sprang up’ overnight as soon as the West Virginia Ruling was introduced. Manufacturers with limited prior refuge experience or specialist engineering knowledge sold cheap, untested units – units that quickly flooded the market.

The mines themselves weren’t to blame – they were following the legislation, unaware of the dangers involved in buying unsafe, untested refuge chambers.

The Cost of Correcting Poor Safety Policy 

The MSHA legislation quickly and correctly deemed most of the refuge chambers underground unsafe and ordered them to be removed and ‘retrofitted’ to the new minimum safety standards.

This transition, where the old refuge chambers were to be ‘grandfathered’ out, was at the expense of the mines themselves. As a result, the average US underground coal mine has to pay up to 50% of the original purchase price to correct their refuge chambers. Unnecessary costs were due to the original, rushed legislation set into place without proper consultation.

Therefore, Sago serves as a crucial reminder to Turkish mining authorities looking to introduce refuge chamber legislation into Turkey after the tragedy at Soma. Of course, some form of legislation needs to be submitted; however, it should be done the correct way to avoid costly mistakes – both monetarily and in terms of safety.

The Longevity of Thorough Refuge Chamber Legislation 

Only three years later, in 2009, and following independent tests and the advice of controlled environment specialists, the US Mines Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) introduced more comprehensive legislation. Today, this legislation is still in place and served as the benchmark for future refuge chamber legislation in China and India.

“The best example to date of an industry that adopted a correct consultative approach to creating new legislation is the global tunnelling industry, specifically the International Tunnelling and Underground Space Association (ITA)”, commented MineARC Systems General Manager Mike Lincoln.

“After a history of tunnel fires and tunnel collapses, refuge chambers were deemed mandatory in tunnelling projects during the construction phase. Before writing and introducing the legislation, the ITA formed a ‘Working Group’ and invited refuge specialists and manufacturers to sit and advise on minimum safety standards, including manufacture and deployment (e.g. deployment of where refuge chambers should).

“The result is that we now have a single industry Guideline for the majority of the world’s tunnelling projects – a Guideline that is the best it could be. It ensures workers, wherever they are in the world, are provided with the highest level of safety protection available.”

The Future of Safety for Turkey's Coal Mining Industry

Adopting a consultative approach to forming refuge legislation would ensure the following;

  • The legislation in Turkey would be of a high standard – in line with leading coal producers worldwide, including the US and China.
  • Therefore, the refuge chambers in Turkey would be safe – featuring the most advanced safe-refuge technology available.
  • All of which would most importantly mean that Turkish miners will be safer.
  • Strong legislation would eliminate the threat of ‘opportunist’ manufacturers who have already begun to take advantage of the situation in Turkey by offering cheap, unsafe and untested refuge chambers to unsuspecting mines.
  • Strong legislation would stand the test of time without requiring immediate revision. Mines will avoid the risk of unsafe refuge chambers and future replacement costs.

Mr Lincoln states, “having witnessed similar events unfold in other countries; we feel that Turkeys’ mining authorities will learn from the mistakes of the past, and introduce strong and meaningful refuge chamber legislation.”

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