©Ihor YosypivKYIV, Ukraine (ILO-Budapest) Ukraine’s economy is still very dependent on coal production. The country faces a major occupational safety and health (OSH) challenge in this and other extracting industries as mining facilities are ageing and existing safety systems date back to Soviet times. Mining is the most hazardous industry in Ukraine, which counted 18.9 per cent of the total number of work-related accidents in 2017 injuring 936 and killing 33 people. Problems are compounded by the fact that Ukraine has lost control over part of its territory in Donetsk and Luhansk regions which used to produce the biggest share of high quality coal.
A group of experts recently visited mines in the Dnipro and Lviv regions to train miners from all over Ukraine on safety and health standards and risk management in the mining sector. The visit was part of a unique ILO training project which aims at improving the occupational safety and health situation in underground coal mines and the metal-ore and other extracting industries.
A distinct feature of the training was that it actually provided a practical session in a mine. The training sessions showed how unevenly the industries have developed, and revealed huge differences in the level of protection of workers in the enterprises concerned.
The first three-days round of the basic mining safety training for the metal-ore and nonmetalliferous enterprises took place in Kryvyi Rih in the Dnipro region, an industrial city that is literally surrounded by ore deposits.
When people in the city became aware of the unprecedented event, the interest grew so high that the room where the training was held could barely fit all participants in. Even local television was featuring the event in the prime-time news as international safety and health experts had never come to their city before.
Building a culture of prevention
The ILO experts, Kenichi Hirose, Wiking Husberg, Alexandra Koteraz and Iryna Peksheva, presented the benefits of OSH management systems based on a risk assessment approach. Such systems have been successful in building a culture of prevention in many countries around the globe. The idea of this approach is to reverse the causal chain of accidents by identifying potential sources of accidents and taking practical safety measures to avoid future accidents.
But as they say, a picture is worth a thousand words. On the second day, 30 participants received their first assignment: under the supervision of the trainers they had to identify hazards and assess their risks on the spot in the Yuvileyna mine which extracts metal-ore 1420 meters below the ground.
Roman Cherneha, the Head of the State Labour Service joined them for this practical exercise. He underlined the importance of the ILO project which “…maintains workers’ productive potential while saving lives and promoting health building on skills to conduct a risk assessment and prevent work-related accidents”.
Participants exactly tried to do this by analyzing the working environment in the mine for hazards and risks that could lead to ill health, injury or death. Later in the training room they presented their reports, ranking the hazards and risks found in the mine according to priority for action. For each finding they had to propose a practical preventive solution.
“You have to start at some point”
Then the international experts came in. The Polish expert, Alexandra Koteraz showed a video from a Polish experimental mine which records the explosion of methane gas and coal dust causing a deadly fire storm in the mine.
Wiking Husberg, another international expert from Finland, repeatedly answered questions about workers who break security rules. He referred to the Finnish experience where equipment, machines and the entire workplace were designed in a way that takes into account the possibility of misuse. He also made it very clear that things cannot change from one day to the other: “In Finland we have started to build an occupational safety and health system based on risk assessment but we are still not there. But you have to start at some point”.
According to the expert, his country needed 40 years to build a preventive culture with an aim to achieve “Vision Zero”. Changing workers’ attitudes was key to that goal which should not been based on punishment but rather on motivation. This idea was strongly supported by the representative of the Ukrainian Ministry of Energy and Coal, Igor Yaschenko who heads the Labour, Industrial and Civil Protection Department.
Ukraine has just started this process by preparing the switch to a risk-oriented system and adjusting national legislation in conformity with the international labour standards, particularly the Promotional Framework for Occupational Safety and Health Convention, 2006 (No 187), and European Union directives. To translate them into practice, the government is currently working on a new Decree “Concept on the OSH management system reform” and its action plan.
Meanwhile, the participants of the ILO training have gone home and will try to identify hazards and assess risks in their mines without the help of the trainers. They will meet again in July to assess progress and identify areas where the international experts can come in again.