Job-related accidents are unfortunate, but many say things can be done to curb them.
By Menekse Tokyay and Drazen Remikovic for Southeast European Times in Istanbul and Podgorica -- 15/10/12
About one-third of all workplace accidents occur in construction. [Reuters]
Workplace accidents are an unfortunate trend that is plaguing the region.
On October 6th, an employee at Montenegrin state electric company Elektroprivreda died while he was working on a power grid in Berislavci, near Podgorica.
"We heard that Toma died because somebody from the base didn't shut down the electricity. Two years ago, a similar thing happened," a colleague, Ljuban Acimovic, told SETimes.
Many tend to blame workers' lack of attention to safety procedures for the accidents, but officials said employers' protection of workers in many instances is lacking.
Officials at the Republic Administration of Inspection Activities in Republika Srpska said that employers are still giving insufficient attention to safety at work, even though the penalties range from 500 to 7,000 euros.
"In the first six months of this year, we [investigated] 3,546 cases and found 339 irregularities. During this period, four people lost their lives at their workplaces," Dusanka Makivic, administration spokeperson, told SETimes.
The European Agency for Safety and Health at Work said that 35 percent of the workers in the European countries feel that the work they do has a negative effect on their health. Moreover, the new technologies, biological hazards and the work on complex machines increase workplace risks and require even higher work protection standards.
Turkey has the highest rate of workplace accidents among European countries, a recent report found.
The report, issued in September by the Chamber of Survey and Cadastre Engineers, said about 172 accidents occur each day at work sites in Turkish workplaces.
The report also said 12,868 workers died between 2000 and 2012.
Miners often deal with old, worn safety equipment. [Reuters]
"The lives of our workers are not worthless, and we know very well that no punishment or no legal provision can ease totally the pains of widows and orphans of the deceased workers," Turkan Dagoglu, AK Party deputy and vice-chairman of the Parliamentary Commission for Health, told SETimes.
Turkey adopted a new Occupational Health and Safety law on June 30th, in line with the relevant European directive and International Health Organisation conventions.
"The new law, which was prepared by our parliamentary commission, intends to [introduce] measures to minimise work-related accidents and maximise the safety of our workers," she said.
The new codes oblige the employers to hire an occupational safety specialist and a workplace doctor.
In the rest of the region, such laws are in place, but are poorly implemented, officials said.
"Today it is important to preserve pay, jobs and pensions -- protection at work is one of the last points. Employers are looking for cheaper ways, and state institutions often keep their eyes closed to this issue," Novosel told SETimes.
Emre Gurcanli, a scholar at the civil engineering faculty at Istanbul Technical University, agreed.
"There are plenty of laws, regulations and directives," Gurcanli told SETimes. "The main challenge comes from the inexistence of legal sanctions for the companies to implement them."
"As long as occupational health and safety is considered by the companies as an additional cost instead of an obligation with dissuasive penalties, this approach will continue as such," Gurcanli said.
Experts cite the need to establish a supervisory authority endowed and to increase the number of work labour inspectors.
When it comes to the unsafe sectors in Turkey, about one-third of all workplace accidents occur in the construction sector, followed by transportation and mining, according to the report.
Construction is the one of the most dangerous professions in Serbia as well. Every year approximately 40 people are killed and another 25,000 are injured on construction sites.
The Serbian Administration for Work Safety and Health adopted a special decree for safety on construction sites last year, introducing a requirement for investors to put work safety co-ordinators at these locations. Fines for not complying with the strict rules ranges between 8,000 and 10,000 euros.
Zoran Reuf, 38, a miner from Bor, east Serbia, said that he feels relatively safe on the job, but that he always proceeds with caution.
The number of workplace accidents in Bulgaria is declining due to improved safety measures. [Reuters]
"The problem is that the protective equipment is often very old and worn, and hardly can protect you if an accident occurs. Because of the specificity of mining, one rescue unit is always present in the mine in case accident happened, but still, injuries and deaths are happening. That's the way our job is," Reuf told SETimes.
Civil groups in the region have called for an increase in awareness to the problem.
Officials of Serbian Association for Occupational Safety and Health -- an NGO that deals with safety of workers -- said there is no doubt that the laws are "European," but said that the situation in the field is a totally different story.
"There are some good employers. But there are those who do not realise that they will increase their profits if their workers are safe at work. If the employee feels safe, he will do much better work than when he is afraid of losing his leg, eye, even his life. It takes a lot of education to raise the security on ideal level," Dragoslav Tomovic, association president, told SETimes.
Turkey recently took on a greater role in increasing awareness in the public, as well. Established in 2011, the Istanbul Occupational Health and Safety Assembly has been tracking the workers' problems. Their findings are reported in periodic e-bulletins and monthly press statements focusing on the major accidents that occur each month.
"In the short term, our assembly is targeting to be transformed into a specific institute and to fill a big gap in Turkey regarding our struggle for better conditions in workplaces," Gurcanli said.
Bulgaria is one of the rare countries in the region that has registered a decrease in workplace accidents. A total of 2,752 workplace accidents were registered in Bulgaria in 2011, down from 3,025 a year earlier, according to the National Social Security Institute in Sofia. The number of fatal injuries at work also fell -- from 94 in 2010 to 86 in 2011.
Under the country's Strategy for Safety and Health at Work for 2008-2013, authorities succeed in creating a better working atmosphere than in other regional countries.
A system to assess health risks was introduced, as well as series of new institutions. A National Council of Working Conditions and Working Conditions Fund was established, and special labour medicine services are built up as a relevant infrastructure for healthy and safety work conditions.
"With the introduction of an obligatory licensing regime for all construction companies, the control over their work, including their compliance with the safety rules, was stepped up," Evtim Rangelov, owner of a Sofia-based construction company, told SETimes.
He added that he spends much of his time trying to make sure that none of his employees is working without the required safety belt, helmet or other needed protective gear.
Krassimira Ivanova, who does masonry and plastering jobs for different odd companies, remembered a case nearly a decade ago when a colleague of hers fell off a rickety scaffolding and fractured her skull.
"The boss claimed that he had not hired her and got away without having to cover the charges for her treatment," she told SETimes. "This could not happen today. If an accident occurs because the employer has not secured safe working conditions, he cannot get away that easily."