Chokedamp Poisoning of Miners in Tkibuli – Reaction

11 Mar, 2020

It came to the attention of our organizations that on March 10, three miners were taken to a Kutaisi hospital for poisoning from the chokedamp accumulation in the ventilation tunnel connecting the Dzidziguri and Mindeli mines in Tkibuli. Our organizations are demanding that the government shut down the Tkibuli mines until a safe working environment is ensured and fully reimburse miners before the works are resumed.

It should be noted that on February 24 the media reported that miners in the Dzidziguri mine in Tkibuli were refusing to continue their work in protest. The protest followed a decision by the company to temporarily shut down the Dzidziguri mine thus forcing workers to enter the workplace in a more hazardous way, possibly through an underground ventilation tunnel, and miners were refusing to work in such a manner. According to them, some of the waste generated by the mining process, including air pollutants hazardous for health, is accumulated in a ventilation tunnel, making it dangerous for use. After the miners received a verbal promise from the company that the less hazardous Dzidziguri shaft would soon be restored, and the use of the more risky alternative was temporary, they agreed to the changed conditions at the risk of their own health. However, severe damage could not be avoided.

The existence of the hazardous working environment in Tkibuli is attested by the report prepared for the Ministry of IDPs from the Occupied Territories, Labor, Health and Social Affairs by the German company DMT GmbH & Co.KG.

In response to the deaths of 10 miners as a result of industrial accidents in 2018, the Georgian Prime Minister resolved that coal mining activities in Tkibuli had to be suspended until the assessment of the health and safety risks in the mines was provided by the audit company and that during this period miners had to be fully compensated.

It is noteworthy that the audit report was ready in January 2019, but it was made available in English only 11 months later, in December 2019. The Tkibuli miners themselves have little information on the content of the abovementioned report.

According to the authors of the report, fatal incidents in 2018 could have been avoided. At the same time, the problems identified in the DMT report go beyond the direct causes of fatalities in 2018 and reflect deep and fundamental infrastructural and management failures. During the visit to the mine, a team of experts identified severe violations of safety standards – in particular malfunctions of underground transport and connecting ramps, damaged ceilings, and walls of access pathways, damaged railways in many places. According to the audit report, the resumption of coal mining operations is inadmissible without minimizing risks to health and safety.

In this context, not only the decision to close the Dzidziguri shaft and to bring the miners in through the ventilation tunnel – which makes extraction even more dangerous – but also to ignore the obvious and unambiguous findings of the DMT. It seems that the company did not take into account the recommendations in the report but instead offered the employees a working environment of even higher risk.

The stance of the state on recommendations of the audit commissioned by it, as well as on the resumption of coal mining operations in Tkibuli, without taking into consideration these recommendations, is still unknown.

In view of these circumstances, we urge the Government of Georgia to:

  • Ensure that the coal mining works in Tkibuli mines are suspended and not allow any further work to continue until the recommendations of the DMT report have been met.
  • Make the DMT audit report available to Tkibuli mine employees and all other stakeholders, including by submitting the report to miners and publishing it in Georgian. Also, start active meetings with locals to discuss the findings, establish a participatory process, and develop a plan for resumption of mine operations with the active involvement of locals.
  • Employees should be fully provided with salaries until the mining is resumed.

Signatory organizations:

Human Rights Education and Monitoring Center (EMC)

Open Society Georgia Foundation (OSGF)