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Who is going to take care of the families of the dead miners - the market or the state?

Boris Umanov, Chairman of the Board of IC Eurasia, wrote an article in about the compulsory insurance of workers against accidents (CAI).
Who is going to take care of the families of the dead miners - the market or the state?

Years go by, technologies develop, and miners, and not only in Kazakhstan, continue to die. Unfortunately, mining is accompanied by loss of life. Behind the smartphone in your hands, or rather, the metals used in its production, is someone's life.

The media, citing the Ministry of Emergency Situations, circulated a message containing the bare minimum of information: “There was a gas burst at the Lenin mine, five people died, 106 were evacuated.” What is a gas release and what is behind the dry numbers of dead and evacuees?

Methane is the main enemy in any mine, it inflames easily even from a small spark at certain concentrations. Therefore, there are massive explosions with face collapse and numerous victims. Gas analyzers and exhaust systems are used to control the content of methane in the air in mines.

The nature of gas release in mines is still unclear and not fully understood. Miners in the face can get into the reservoir, which contains methane under high pressure. It's like opening a boiling pressure cooker, which will instantly blow apart if damaged. The same thing happens here due to a sharp pressure drop.

The release can be relatively small in power, without serious damage. However, besides the fact that methane is explosive, it is also extremely toxic. At high concentrations 5-6 inhales can lead to instant death.

With a high degree of probability, some of the evacuated miners received methane poisoning, which could subsequently lead a healthy person to atrophy of brain tissue. The consequences for the poisoned person can be the most severe even after many years, up to paralysis and loss of cognitive functions of the brain.

Lenin’s curse

The Lenin mine in Shakhtinsk was put into operation in 1964; its face was constantly accompanied by various accidents and casualties. In total, 71 people died during the mine operation.

The first serious incident with the dead occurred in 1978. There was a major incident in 1985, again there were victims. After gaining independence and privatization in the nineties, there had already been three incidents that led to the death of people - in 1995, 1998 and 1999.

The worst tragedy was in September 2006, it took lives of more than forty people overnight and changed the lives of hundreds of their relatives forever.

Shakhtinsk catastrophe

One of the largest man-made disasters in the history of the coal industry of Kazakhstan occurred at the Lenin mine on September 20, 2006. Then, as a result of a methane explosion, 41 miners died, another 13 were injured, as a result of which they lost their ability to work for life.

Violation of safety regulations was probably the cause of the tragedy, but the main fault rested precisely with the employer, the coal department of ArcelorMittal Temirtau.

The State Commission came to the conclusion that 22 people were guilty of the incident, including the executives. Six employees who directly supervised the site were sentenced to real prison time.

Employer liability insurance was handled by general insurance companies back then and not by life insurance companies. Payments to the families of the dead and injured were made by the insurance company Eurasia, which I then managed.

It was a huge tragedy and hard lesson for us. We are still discussing the circumstances and details in our company.

The families of the victims received 216 million tenge from the insurance company, or $1.6 million at the exchange rate for 2006 in total. The average payment per family was about $39,000. Miners received 227 million tenge for established disabilities. Lifelong payments are being made; the victims and their families have received about $50 million in insurance benefits from IC Eurasia.

Sixteen years have passed since the disaster, and during this time we have not received a single complaint from the victims’ families. Actually, these payments are the meaning of our company existence.

Life lessons

Life insurance companies are engaged in compulsory accident insurance (CAI) today. Over the past 15 years, the rules and legislative regulation of this category of life and health insurance have changed sometimes for the better, sometimes for the worse.

The latest amendments in the classification of dangerous categories of professions were implemented by the Ministry of Labor and Social Protection of the Republic of Kazakhstan just six months ago. Some dangerous professions have received more serious insurance coverage, taking into account occupational risks, and rightly so, this is for the better.

The requirements to compliance with labor safety standards are growing. 15-20 years ago, the Kazakhstani mines simply exploded, but in recent years this was not the case. Unfortunately, accidents take place, and this suggests that we all have a lot of work ahead of us.

Dangerous professions are not going to vanish in the coming decades, even with increasing levels of automation and robotization. Apparently, more than one generation of our fellow citizens will choose the path of a miner.

What worries the insurance market veteran today? On the sidelines of some ministries, officials are discussing a return to the Soviet system of social protection for workers injured at work. However, these officials had no idea about the real functioning of that system, namely how the Soviet state exploited the workers and paid them pennies if they were injured on the job.

I believe, it is in the interests of both employees and the state to provide insurance companies with more rights and obligations than they currently have. The rights of not only current miners but also their grandchildren and great-grandchildren are protected and will be protected in the best possible way in the conditions of competition and market economy.

Of course, the employer should insure the employees, the state should control the insurance, and it is private insurance companies that should pay the victims and their families. Otherwise, we risk never learning the lessons for which hundreds of our compatriots have already paid with their lives and health.


Photos are from open sources.

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