With 903 dead in six months, Turkey's job safety, or lack thereof, comes under fire again

Published July 6th, 2014 - 06:51 GMT

With many eyes turned to the issue of workplace safety in Turkey since a recent mine blast in the district of Soma that killed 301 workers, a report has shown that the country saw 946 workers die in work-related accidents in the first six months of the year.

Turkey already has a bleak record for workplace deaths, and health and safety standards are often neglected in the country. An International Labour Organization (ILO) report had earlier listed Turkey as the country with the third-highest number of workplace fatalities in the world.

Work-related accidents claimed 946 lives in the first six months of 2014 according to the latest report released on Thursday by the İstanbul Workers' Health and Job Safety Assembly. Even more tragic is the fact that 19 of the 946 who died were below the age of 18, exposing the problem of child labor in Turkey.

The report stated that 141 died in work-related accidents in June alone. The number of worker deaths in the first half is already more than the average figure for fatalities in the same months of last year. The İstanbul Workers' Health and Job Safety Assembly's annual report for 2013 shows that 1,235 died in work-related accidents in Turkey over the whole year.

According to data released by the Ministry of Labor and Social Security in 2013, 172 work accidents happen daily in Turkey, four of which, on average, are fatal. The ministry estimated the total annual cost of work accidents in Turkey at TL 7.7 billion in the same report last year.

A lack of awareness of work safety measures on the part of employers and a lack of enforcement of occupational health and safety laws are cited as the main reasons for the rising number of workplace deaths. Government negligence and a lack of timely inspections of workplaces worsen the situation. According to recent statistics from the Ministry of Labor and Social Security, out of 1.5 million workplaces in Turkey, less than 9,000 were inspected last year. In the last 11 years, only 90,000 inspections have taken place. Of this number, 46,000 workplaces were discovered by Social Security Institution (SGK) inspectors to have uninsured workers or workers holding fake insurance.

Government officials say both workers and employers are now receiving work safety education to minimize accidents; however, most workers are not happy with safety conditions. In fact, 77 percent of workers are still not satisfied with their workplace safety measures, according to a recent poll conducted by an İstanbul-based firm.

Most work-related deaths this year occurred in the mining, construction, trade and agriculture sectors, Thursday's report reveals. Turkey has seen a rise in the number of these fatalities over the past decade, with these sectors emerging as the main drivers of rapid economic growth at home.

A total of 313 mine workers died in work-related accidents between January and June of this year, while this number was 175 in the construction sector. Accidents claimed 122 workers' lives in the agricultural sector and 75 in the transportation sector in the first six months of this year. The number of workers who sustained serious injuries as a result of workplace accidents and had to retire due to disability increased to 2,216 in 2011 from 1,802 in 2013. These people are unable to work and thus receive disability benefits from the state.

Despite expectations that work safety conditions would improve in parallel with Turkey's economic growth, the country is suffering even greater numbers of fatalities each year. A total of 1,171 workers died in work-related accidents in 2009, and this figure increased to 1,444 in 2010 and 1,700 in 2011. The country has also made only minor progress in harmonizing its workplace safety standards with those of the European Union. A separate report by the ILO had ranked Turkey as the country with the highest number of workplace deaths in Europe for 2012.

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