Kazakh Prime Minister Commits to Ensuring Accountability for Coal Mine Tragedy

ASTANA – A special commission will conduct a thorough investigation into the circumstances behind the deadly accident at the ArcelorMittal-operated Kazakhstanskaya mine in the Karagandy Region, as instructed by President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev, the Prime Minister’s press service reported on Aug. 19.

Photo credit: gmk.center. Click to see the map in full size. The map is designed by The Astana Times.

There were 227 workers underground when a conveyor belt caught fire on Aug. 17. Of them, 222 workers were rescued from the site, 11 of whom were hospitalized. The bodies of five workers were found by the rescue team.

The fate of ArcelorMittal Temirtau’s ownership

According to Prime Minister Alikhan Smailov, this incident has raised urgent concerns about the fate of ArcelorMittal’s operations in Kazakhstan. 

The Prime Minister visits injured miners at a hospital. Photo credit: primeminister.kz.

Acknowledging the recurrence of tragedies at enterprises owned by ArcelorMittal Temirtau, Smailov underscored the pressing need to address the situation promptly. Previous commitments from ArcelorMittal’s management to improve workers’ safety and increase investments have remained unfulfilled. The government is taking measures to prevent further incidents and safeguard workers. 

“All accountable parties, including the management, will face consequences,” he said, adding that the commission’s findings will be brought to court in September, ensuring justice for the victims.

He instructed the state bodies to provide support, uncover the causes of the accident, and initiate reform measures.

Arman Kalykov. Photo credit: inform.kz

According to Arman Kalykov, former director of the Kazakhstanskaya coal mine and current deputy (member) of the Mazhilis, the lower house of the Kazakh Parliament, more than 100 people died at the ArcelorMittal Temirtau enterprises in the past 15 years.

Kalykov attributed the recurring accidents to underfunding by the shareholder, pointing to cost-cutting measures taken by ArcelorMittal Temirtau. This has particularly impacted safe working conditions and adequate staffing.

He stressed the need for more personnel, which has been a persistent problem. The efforts to persuade shareholders to invest in hiring additional workers have yielded some results, but hiring has now been suspended due to perceived high costs.

Kalykov noted that the facilities have been operating for 27 years with outdated technology, reflecting the company’s reluctance to invest in new technologies.  

Kalykov dismissed the pledges made by ArcelorMittal Temirtau’s leadership to improve safety and health standards, deeming them mere rhetoric. He highlighted the disparity between words and tangible actions, which has led to dire consequences, as seen in the recurring accidents.

Assistance to the victims’ families and injured miners

The Prime Minister conveyed his condolences as he met with grieving families of the miners who were killed in the incident and visited injured miners.

Alikhan Smailov meets with the families of the deceased miners. Photo credit: primeminister.kz.

Smailov assured the families that the government shares their grief and is determined to hold those responsible accountable.

The Prime Minister pledged to provide survivor and social benefits and lump-sum compensation for moral damages to the victims’ families. The state and the employer will offer them housing, education, and employment opportunities.

Miners who suffered injuries will be granted full sick leave remuneration, comprehensive medical coverage, and the opportunity for sanatorium-resort treatment. The government is committed to compensating for the physical and emotional toll of the accident.

The government guarantees to fulfill its obligations, regardless of any shifts in ownership within ArcelorMittal Temirtau, Smailov noted.

The Prime Minister said international environmental and industrial safety audits at the company are expected to conclude in September, which will guide efforts to ensure a safer work environment.

In response to concerns about miner safety, legislative changes are being made to lower the retirement age for miners to 55. This initiative acknowledges the physically demanding nature of mining work.

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