Who Will be Held Responsible for Tragedies at ArcelorMittal Temirtau?
Deaths in mines, injuries at enterprises, fines and endless lawsuits. This is not the full list of what is happening in ArcelorMittal Temirtau JSC, and incidents there are a common occurrence. Orda looked into the situation.
In November 2022, President Qasym-Jomart Toqayev, in connection with frequent accidents and deaths of employees at the AMT, criticized the company's management and instructed to conduct an independent safety audit.
Vijay Goyal, Executive Vice President of ArcelorMitalTemirtau JSC, promised to bring in independent experts.
Almost a Year Has Passed. Accidents Continue, People Are Dying.
The fire that occurred on August 17 in the Kazakhstanskaya mine claimed the lives of 5 miners and 13 were hospitalized. The cause was a conveyor belt fire. Information later surfaced that the fire may have been intentional.
The fire has still not been extinguished. Experts are sure that its operations will not resume for a while.
It was not long before another incident happened at another AMT facility. On September 7, a worker at the mine died.
Now three enterprises of JSC “ArcelorMitalTemirtau” are on the verge of bankruptcy. Several yearly violations that the company is not ready deal with are racking up. Meanwhile, the victims have been seeking legal social assistance and compensation through the courts for years.
AMT brought legal action against Kazakhstan’s Ministry of Emergency Situations on January 30, 2022. The company demanded to recognize illegal and call off the special investigation into the accident that had occurred on November 3, 2022 at the Lenin mine. As a result of a gas explosion, nine people were injured, five of them died, two were seriously injured and two were slightly injured there.
The commission was still held, while the claim rejected. The company's fault in the incident was fully recognized. Among the incident’s causes: the lack of technical dossiers and clear regulations for the work carried out. The gas sensors did not work and were not checked.
In August 2023, the injured miners and the victims’ families appealed to the president. They were dissatisfied with the investigation’s progress. None of ArcelorMittal Temirtau’s foreign top managers were held accountable for five miners being killed and four being left disabled.
Despite the results of the commission and establishing the company’s fault, the investigator, according to the victims’ relatives, said:
The victims’ relatives say that the leadership of the AMT is aware of the Karaganda mines' explosiveness and conceals the gas indicators, while people die because of someone else's desire to extract “the best coal”.
Back in early 2022, in an attempt to appeal the investigation's results, AMT claimed the commission was formed illegally and innocent people would be affected.
The conclusions of the investigation about the causes of the accident are based on assumptions. No connection has been established between the causes of the accident specified in the act and the accident itself. The investigation materials and regulatory documents do not confirm the commission's conclusions that the accident occurred as a result of their violation. The conclusions of the Act on the causes of the accident will entail criminal liability of innocent employees who are responsible persons. Taking this into account, AMT does not agree with the Act in order to avoid unjustified criminal prosecution of innocent people, the company's lawsuit says.
Only four out of the 26 responsible persons are facing charges. There are no heads of the coal department or foreigners among them. The ex-heads of the AMT are currently advisers.
While people affected by the incidents are pushing on in their search for the truth, the company is displeased with “frequent inspections” initiated by the government.
AMT indeed did not appreciate the audits' frequency. The company filed a lawsuit against the “department of the Industrial Safety Committee for the Karaganda region" with a demand to call off the inspection at one of the mines.
The plaintiff considers the act illegal, as constant inspections by the department cause damage and hinder the normal functioning of the enterprise, distract employees from their main work. The subject of the audit does not correspond to the competence of the department.
At the same time, the inspection should have been carried out upon AMT dealing with the violations already identified.
For each such audit, as well as for investigations into fatal cases, AMT found a reason to file a lawsuit for illegality or for harm. The court, however, did not grant the company’s requests for the most part.
An excerpt from the court's decision on the lawsuit against the investigation reads:
The court reasonably concluded that in this case, the audit is a burdensome administrative act for the plaintiff, as it generates adverse consequences in the form of determining 100% of the employer's fault in a fatal accident.
In other words, the court blatantly said that the company simply does not want to be held responsible. AMT's claim was thereby not satisfied.
Court Ping Pong and Noodles
The Ministry of Ecology is simply tired of fighting to get AMT to remedy the identified violations.
An interesting event took place at a meeting of the Department of Ecology of the Karaganda Region in December 2022, where measures to reduce emissions into the environment and the implementation of environmental protection measures by enterprises were discussed.
After the report of the technical director from JSC "ArcelorMittal Temirtau”, Konstantin Tsimbal, who claimed there was a 20% reduction in emissions, independent environmentalists took out and put spaghetti on their ears. This is a gesture commonly used to express that someone is misleading them or others.
That's how I feel about the information you've provided. I have wide ears, and I hang noodles from AMT on them. I urge you to finally stop lying to yourself, to us, to the population..<..> This can all be solved. Open up, we will show you where you have holes and problems, why you are so dirty. And stop lying to us! said Dmitry Kalmykov, Development Director of the Karaganda Eco-museum.
He noted that in October, AMT came to the hearings, while the increase in emissions amounted to 247,000 tons in total, then suddenly decreased by 20%.
“They haven't lowered it for 20 years before! How can this be? Our attitude is the same as that of government agencies: this cannot be. All the investigations that have been carried out show that you are offenders. You report false information all the time,” Kalmykov added.
The Karaganda region’s Department of Ecology has filed several lawsuits since January 2023 to suspend the operation of AMT-owned facilities and technical structures.
Earlier, in October 2022, the Department of Ecology demanded to suspend the activities of the Tentekskaya mine regarding the discharge of service water until violations identified during previous inspections were remedied.
In autumn of that year, it was said that the company may not receive an environmental permit for the next year if it does not fulfill a number of requirements.
It was then that the Minister of Ecology, Geology and Natural Resources of the Republic of Kazakhstan Serikkali Brekeshev, demanded that AMT reduce the percentage of emissions into the environment.
As one will recall, the Department listened, scrutinizing the compliance report. AMT tried to find a way out at the session. Realistically, AMT was successful. There are still no suspensions of its activities. Only new fires, accidents and deaths.
Veterans and Newcomers
The owner of ArcelorMittal Temirtau, Lakshmi Mittal, who scooped up bankrupt enterprises, is a billionaire. In 1995, the enterprises in the Karaganda region, the Karmetkombinat in Temirtau, and coal mines in Karaganda came into his possession.
But along with the bankrupt companies, Mittal also acquired responsibility for their former employees. Incidents had occurred before. There have been workers who became disabled and sustained injuries that stop them from continuing to work.
It was on May 30, 2000 that an agreement was concluded between the Government of the Republic of Kazakhstan and IspatKarmet OJSC on the issue of compensation for persons "who received labor injury, occupational disease and lost a their main provider at the Karaganda Metallurgical Combine."
According to the documents, the families of the employees who were harmed should have received 10,709,447 tenge each, while the employees had to obtain the necessary measures for social rehabilitation themselves: wheelchairs, crutches, prosthetics, as well as sanatorium treatment.
Two of the victims had been waiting for their prosthetics and wheelchairs since 2006 and 2013. But in March 2023, they received an official rejection.
Kermet had already been reorganized several times and changed its name. The new company assumed obligations to the victims only for monthly compensation payments. The rest remained with the employer, whose legal fate was unknown. It was only clear that the company had yet to be liquidated. Therefore, the state could not assume obligations for compensation.
It was also impossible to receive social assistance from Arcelor Mittal Temirtau JSC because it did not assume obligations with respect to employees who had previously been injured at work.
The provision of social adaptation services was eventually entrusted to state institutions.
In April 2016, a worker sent to the Tentekskaya mine received a leg injury. While working, his shin was almost torn off.
According to the victim, while moving through the armored face conveyor, he slipped and fell and was pulled into the unloading device’s opening. His right leg ended up between the scraper and the upper part of the opening.
Court documents indicate that the employee received: "extensive lacerated wounds of the right shin and left foot. Detachment of the skin and two soft tissues of the right thigh. Mild posthemorrhagic anemia."
The man received a status of the second disability degree. Yet the court considered that he was at fault.
Witness Lapaykov N. explained to the court that, in his opinion, the cause of the accident was the frequent false alarm when starting the drive gear without its movement.
This caused a lack of attention to the alarm and when it went off again, the employee decided that it was a false signal. There was a version that the room was too noisy and drowned the signal out.
Unfortunately, the company has quite a few such examples. And regardless of a court's decision, people, sacrificing their health at AMT enterprises, have to fight for compensation for years. It is also not clear how the money is paid as a result in cases approved by the court.
While the company itself delays time with counterclaims and continues not to remedy violations, the ministers promise to hold the AMT leadership accountable.
Returning to the tragedy that occurred at the Lenin mine on November 3, 2022, it is possible to judge the fulfillment of AMT's obligations.
Survivors of the explosion say that no one has ever visited them, let alone offered compensation.
Although they wrote that we received moral and psychological assistance. We didn't see any of this. And even moral compensation was paid to us not as victims, but as simple regresniki (Russian term used for those who pursued compensation via a regress suit - Ed.) … We were yanked around to examinations, to hospitals. For them, we are expendable, says Vladimir Khaniev, the mine's combine harvester, who now has many illnesses as a result of the accident.
The mother of another person, who worked in the mines for 38 years and then died there, says that AMT lawyers visited her with a ready-made statement stating that she should blame only the Lenin mine for what happened. They offered the woman a “deal”.
All that remains is the hope that the chain of life-taking incidents comes to an end. We hope that the tragedies of recent months will become an exception to the rule, while the real perpetrators will finally be brought to justice, and the victims will receive the full amount of all possible compensation.
Original Author: Yuri Nizhegorodsky
DISCLAIMER: This is a translated piece. The text has been modified, the content is the same. Please refer to the original piece in Russian for accuracy.
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