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18 Jun, 2007 12:28

Miners checked for drug use

Eleven coal miners have tested positive for drugs before heading to work in mines in the Kemerovo region in Siberia. But the National Miners Union says the latest drug test results should not be linked to the blasts.

The Kemerovo region is one of the richest in Russia in terms of its coal reserves. It's also therefore, one of the busiest mining areas.

Extracting coal is a dangerous business. Accidents are not uncommon, even in the most high-tech of mines. 108 killed in a methane gas explosion deep underground, in March. Dozens more died last month – the cause was the same. Numerous investigations are underway as to how and why these accidents are happening in modern Russia.

Miners are also being investigated – tested for drugs before heading to work. Seven mines, and over 2,000 miners examined -11 people have proved positive for being under the influence in the last few weeks, 25 in tests over recent months. It’s fewer than in previous investigations, but still is a cause for concern, say the authorities.

The National Miners Union has dismissed the problem as insignificant, largely a problem among unskilled workers.

“Drug addicts are socially excluded people who are able to do unqualified work only. They can work as loaders, carrying logs from one place to another,” says Aleksandr Sergeev, the Union Chairman.

But is it really so insignificant? Human error in the handling of safety equipment has been uncovered as a contributing factor to the recent tragedies in this region, with warning systems not working or deliberately blocked to ensure production is not interrupted by alarms. If people are unable to think clearly while impaired by drugs or alcohol, grave errors can be made.

The Miners Union is suspicious of these latest figures. It's concerned it's an attempt to deflect the blame onto the miners themselves for the blast, rather than pointing the finger at the people the Union regards to be at fault.

It's still not clear what drugs were taken, or even whether they were taken at work. But the drop in those who've tested positive for drugs, say the authorities, proves its prevention measures are now working.