Turkey was shaken on Saturday evening by yet another deadly work accident in İstanbul — which this time claimed the lives of 10 workers when an elevator carrying the workers plunged to the ground from the 32nd floor.
Negligence was the major cause of the disaster.
The incident occurred at the construction site of a luxurious high-rise residential building in the Mecidiyeköy neighborhood of the city’s Şişli district. The site was the former site of Galatasaray football club’s Ali Sami Yen Stadium.
A group of workers at the construction site were riding the elevator up when the elevator — due to an unknown reason — broke down and plunged to the ground from the 32nd floor of the 44-storey building. İstanbul Governor Hüseyin Avni Mutlu announced that 10 workers had died. The remains of the workers were taken for an autopsy.
Construction was halted after the deadly accident.
Eight people, including an occupational safety specialist, were detained. They were released after they testified to a public prosecutor on Sunday.
According to Mutlu, the disaster, which he said cannot be described as a work accident, is being investigated. “We cannot accept anything as a work accident. Security measures should have been taken in the best manner to prevent any loss of life on the [construction] site,” he stated.
Security measures were not apparently taken at the site, however.
Some workers, who spoke to the media after the deaths of their 10 coworkers, claimed the elevators had been giving signs of breaking down for the past month, but workers were still forced to use them — over the elevators’ capacity. They said the elevators were carrying construction materials besides workers. The workers also claimed that one elevator plunged down approximately a month ago, but — fortunately — no one was injured or killed.
Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu said on Sunday that the 10 dead workers were “martyrs” who were working very hard to earn honest wages for their families. “We are planning to take all measures for their [workers’] families,” he stated.
The prime minister vowed to pursue a thorough investigation into any negligence in the incident, adding, “When legal measures [for workplace safety] are bypassed, work accidents are inevitable.” He also said the Cabinet will discuss tougher measures to prevent workplace accidents.
Labor and Social Security Minister Faruk Çelik said an investigation is under way to uncover all negligence and flaws related to the deadly incident. “I believe the reason behind the breakdown of the elevator will be brought to light very soon,” he stated.
On Sunday afternoon, a group of demonstrators clashed with police as they protested the deaths of the 10 workers. Police worked to disperse the group with tear gas, plastic bullets and pressurized water.
Firefighters were informed about the fatal accident at 7:45 p.m. on Saturday. However, workers were officially supposed to stop work at 7 p.m. — a strong indication that workers were being forced to work overtime.
Aziz Torun, the boss of Torunlar Holding, the company building the high-rise, spoke to the press on Sunday morning and said he does not know why the workers were still at the construction site despite the completion of their shift.
He denied claims that negligence is the cause of the accident. “The ministry [of Labor and Social Security] has regularly inspected our [construction] site. The last inspection was in April. We have taken all measures that the law requires,” he stated. Torun also said he would make those responsible for the tragedy pay the price. He also said he had used the same elevator 10 days before the accident and that nothing had happened to him.
He also put the blame for the deaths on the workers, saying workers are given workplace safety training but do not take the issue seriously. “It is a fact that deaths happen in this [construction] sector despite measures. When you look at Turkish Statistics Institute [TurkStat] reports, you see that similar deaths happen [at other construction sites], too,” he noted. He added that the site will be re-opened to construction once the ongoing investigation is complete.
Saturday’s tragedy was not the first at the construction site.
In April, a 19-year-old man died at the same site when a primitive elevator carrying him fell from the 17th floor. The man was allegedly working at the construction site to save money for his education. The construction company paid his family TL 5,600 in compensation.
Also last week, a fire broke out at the site after an explosion due to an unknown reason. No casualties were reported.
Confederation of Public Workers’ Rights Labor Union (HAKSEN) President Ayhan Çivi denounced the deaths of the 10 workers. He said workplace accidents do not happen by fate but that they happen due to a lack of proper measures to prevent them. According to Çivi, most worker deaths occur in the construction sector in Turkey.
Workplace accidents are common in Turkey, which is plagued by poor safety conditions. In terms of the annual number of accidents in the workplace, Turkey ranks highest among European countries and third in the world.
In the first seven months of 2014, as many as 1,100 workers have been reported dead as a result of work-related accidents. More than 12,000 people died in work accidents since 2002 — when the Justice and Development Party (AK Party) government rose to power.
In May, 301 workers died in a coalmine in western Turkey — the worst mining disaster in Turkey’s history. The deaths stemmed from a fire in a mine in Soma, a small town in western Turkey, and most of the 301 workers died from carbon monoxide poisoning.
Members of the opposition parties strongly reacted to claims of negligence behind Saturday’s tragedy.
Republican People’s Party (CHP) parliamentary group deputy chairman Akif Hamzaçebi complained that workers are forced to work under primitive conditions in the construction of a high-rise that is said to be one of the most luxurious in the world. “This is not an incident we may forget about or just ignore,” he noted.
Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) deputy Sırrı Süreyya Önder went to inspect the construction site on Sunday. In comments to the media, he said the incident cannot be termed an accident. “Accidents happen on the roads. And both the rich and poor die in these accidents. Have you heard of any mine boss die in a mining accident? Or have you heard of any construction mogul dying in a construction accident? Workplace deaths are murder. Those responsible for the deaths must be tried for murder,” he stated.
Günay Kubilay, a deputy chairman of the HDP, called on Minister Çelik to resign. He said the minister is responsible for the deaths of the 10 workers as his ministry failed to take the proper measures to prevent work accidents and deaths in the country. “The government and the minister are the sole responsible figures behind the deaths of the workers. The minister should immediately quit his position,” he noted.
Independent deputy Ertuğrul Günay, who is a former minister of culture and tourism, said he had proposed to the Cabinet to declare the construction site — before construction started — a green area but the Cabinet rejected his proposal. “They [Cabinet members] told me that the site was a very precious area and it would be sold for a high amount [of money],” he noted.
One of the 10 workers who died at the construction site in Mecidiyeköy was reportedly a university student who began working at the site only five days ago.
According to media reports, Hıdır Ali Genç was working at the site to earn some money before the new academic year at his university began. Genç was attending Tunceli University. He used to work on construction sites to support his family financially and earn money for his university expenses.
In addition, two of the victims — Ferdi Kara and Tahir Kaya — were brothers.
Their father, Mithat Kara, rushed to the construction site upon hearing about the deadly accident. In tears, the grieving father said, “Construction took away my sons.” He also said he had also been working on the same construction site for five months.