In August, two grave accidents coincidently occurred on Russian mines. However, these are not the only cases during recent years. Wek.ru decided to recall the most infamous accidents that have occurred in Russia over the past two decades.
There was a rock-fall on the Yerunovskaya-8 mine in the Kemerovo region (aka Kuzbass coal fields.) One person died, and three more were seriously injured. The earthquake that shifted some rocks was cited as the preliminary cause of this emergency.
On the same day, the overpass through which coal was delivered from underground to the loading point crashed on the Vorgashorskaya mine in the Komi Republic. The conveyor gallery had been already decommissioned by the time of the accident. At the time of the accident, it was being dismantled. The investigators believed that the workers had violated the safety rules. Four of them died under the rubble.
Every year, dozens, if not hundreds, of incidents occur on coalmines. Some of them become real tragedies claiming lives of many workers. Since 1992, there have been a total of accidents on Russian coalmines. More than 25 workers were killed.
Accidents at Ulyanovsk and Yubileinaya Mines
In 2007, two explosions occurred one after another in Kuzbass. On March 19, the first of them occurred on the Ulyanovskaya mine. There were 207 people under the ground. A total of 110 of them died, including almost all of the mine managers. At that moment, they were doing an examination. The tragedy was caused by the accumulation of methane and a spark on the power cable.
Before the accident, the Ulyanovsk mine was considered to be one of the safest. It was equipped with modern technologies, also including the system of ventilation. However, during the investigation, Aman Tuleyev, the governor of the Kemerovo region, said that the sensors had intentionally been made worthless. Allegedly, they showed artificially low gas content. Notably, every employee of this enterprise was aware of this fact.
Two months later, on May 24, an explosion took place on the neighboring Yubileinaya mine. There were 217 people underground when it ripped through the mine, and 39 were killed. The accident happened for the same reasons – methane-air mixture and a spark from combine cable. The investigation revealed that there was some interference with the sensors, which prevented them from responding to the methane emission. Both mines were owned by Yuzhkuzbassugol. Today, the Ulyanovskaya and Yubileinaya mines are still in operation after they underwent reconstruction.
Tragedy at Raspadskaya Mine
On the night from May 8 to 9 May, 2010, two explosions occurred on Raspadskaya mine in Mezhdurechensk in the Kemerovo region. A total of 103 people, miners and rescuers, were killed. Another 229 workers suffered injuries, burns and carbon monoxide poisoning. As a result of the accident, over 300 km of tunnels and drifts were destroyed, entire output of the mine. Strong fires broke out underground. The bodies of 11 miners could not be lifted to the surface.
The violation of dust conditions, non-compliance with safety regulations and possible methane emission were cited as the cause of the accident. According to the miners, they had to take constant risks to fulfill the output plan. That was the only way, in which they could count on decent wages.
Sensors of methane were sealed or wrapped in tape to keep the automated technology working. In order to monitor the situation, the miners carried portable gas analyzers and went up to the surface only when the indicators reached the limits. There were other problems with safety at a face. For example, water spraying of rocks was arranged very badly. It precipitates coal dust that is highly explosive while in the air.
The mine was restored after 7 months. Several other incidents have been recorded since then. In particular, there was a fire inside the mine in 2017. Fortunately, no one was injured, and all 570 miners were evacuated. In 2019, one worker died in a rock-fall. Today, the Raspadskaya is ranked as the largest operating coalmine in Russia.
Accident at Severnaya Mine
On February 25, 2016 an explosion occurred on the Severnaya mine in in the mining town of Vorkuta in the north of European Russian. On February 28, there were three more explosions during the removal of the rubble. A total of 30 miners and 6 rescuers were killed. The underground fires were first extinguished with nitrogen. Then it was decided to flood the mine. According to the documents, it was mothballed for 7 years.
As in previous cases, the accident was caused by methane and a spark. According to the investigators, there was a strong natural emission that was impossible to foresee and prevent. It was a fatal accident.
Relatives of the victims, in turn, say that the methane sensors were glued, and the work had to be done with breaches of safety regulations.
These are just some of the accidents that have occurred in the last 20 years. There was also an explosion at the Taizhina mine in the Kemerovo region in 2004. It claimed the lives of 47 miners. There was also the explosion at the Sibirskoye mine in Anzhero-Sudzhensk. As a result, six people died. And the explosion at Ziminka mine in Kuzbass that claimed the lives of three miners.
Christoph Dauber, a mining expert and professor at Technical University n.a. Georgy Agricola in Bochum, believes that the level of safety of the Russian coalmines is extremely low in comparison with mines in other countries.
“This is due to the difficult conditions there,” says Dauber. “A lot of methane, the so called “mine gas,” accumulates in some cavities in the rock formations. On the other hand, there is a lack of investments in security systems. Gaps in personnel training also affect the situation. As a result, the potential danger is much higher than in the mines of this kind in Western countries, to say nothing of the German standards. There is also an important question to what extent the companies observe labor conditions and safety in each particular case. It is good if this is the main goal. In this case, the management gets its tasks taking it into account. However, safety is sometimes sacrificed for economy-oriented purposes.”
Otari Ishkhneli, the deputy CEO of the A.A. Skochinsky Mining Institute, recalls that “in the 1990s, coal enterprises were privatized, and many of them were bought for a mere song, including mines. In the meantime, the state actually turned its back on the industry and the owners had to survive on their own. Most of the mines that we call new are the ones that underwent reconstruction and were given new names. All of them have safety issues when mining operations start being carried out at greater depths. But these problems are not connected with their age. These risks should be taken into account in projects.”
Answering the question about the expediency of closing mines of this kind Ishkhneli says that “the issue of closure requires to be examined more carefully. There are monocities where there is no work except mining.”
“As I said before, there are mines with different mining and geological conditions,” said Ishkhneli. “Besides, there is a question of how to solve this issue in terms of legislation. The owner of the mine bought a license and invested huge sums of money to develop coal mining. These expenses will have to be compensated for somehow.
“It is also necessary to make large payments to dismissed employees, to liquidate workings, to take out the equipment and to carry out surface recultivation. As is usually the case, there are many other unexpected problems and expenses. Billions of rubles are to be spent to close the mine alone, and this will again require money from the state budget. It would be more reasonable to direct these funds to innovative scientific developments that make the miners' work safer.”
Alexander Sergeyev, the chairman of the independent trade union of Russian miners, said that “after the tragedy on the Raspadskaya mine, quite drastic regulations and steps were taken. However, although there has been some real progress, unfortunately, they have not yielded any results so far. The law on compulsory degassing was adopted. Our trade union has been talking about it for ten years trying to lobby it through. However, it was blocked by the owners because the costs are quite high.
“In accordance with this law, mines that are particularly dangerous due to sudden gas emissions and release of large amounts of methane must be drained out. The question is whether it is used or not and whether the draining-out of gas is efficacious.”
“A recurrence of tragedies of this kind cannot be completely prevented, because it is a natural factor that does not depend on people,” said Sergeyev. “Science and technology are not yet perfect enough. It is possible to minimize the probability of these tragedies, and it must be done. For this purpose, a saddening experience of tragedies was accumulated on tragedies, and also there are the solutions offered by scientists and experts. Everything is clear and depends on the will and implementation of the decisions that have already been made.”
The matter-of-fact description of these accidents might look like carbon copies. However, there are human lives behind each of them – someone's husbands, sons, fathers and brothers. These are real people, who are added to the statistics on paper. Every day hundreds of miners come down to mines knowing that they might face the same fate at any moment.
We have described only the largest industrial disasters. However, there are almost always smaller cases behind the scenes such as derailing of cars, rock collapses and carbon monoxide poisoning. Although many of them are also accompanied by casualties. Not to mention the health damage caused by the works of this type.
In recent years, coalmining companies have been modernizing their facilities. New equipment has been purchased, including gas emission control systems. New regulations are being introduced. However, at the same time, the volume of coal produced is also growing. Along with it, the amount of methane that might exceed the lethal concentration at any moment increases. And, unfortunately, there is no answer to the question of how to raise the safety of miners' work and to avoid tragedies in the future.