On the Picket Line

Mine explosion in Russia kills over 50 workers, dozens injured

By Brian Williams
December 13, 2021

The bosses’ drive for profit at the expense of safety led to a deadly coal mine methane gas explosion in the Kemerovo region of southwestern Siberia Nov. 25. Over 50 people were killed and dozens more hospitalized. Five workers who came to help in rescue operations were among those killed, and one survived.

The explosion occurred after a ventilation shaft began filling with toxic gas while 285 people were working underground in the Listvyazhnaya mine, government officials said. Methane gas levels were dangerously high prior to the blast, but no action was taken either by the company — SDS-Coal — or by government inspectors.

Among those killed was Boris Piyalkin, who worked three decades as a miner. A video circulated widely in Russian media by his wife, Inna Piyalkina, said he told her methane levels at the mine “were going through the roof.”

“My husband came home from work every day and said it wouldn’t end well,” she said.

Former miner Denis Timokhin told independent TV channel Dozhd that management forces workers to keep the mine operating despite high methane concentrations. Their attitude is “If you don’t want to work, quit,” he said. “No safety protocols. All sensors are plugged with bags.”

The government has opened a criminal case and arrested the mine’s director and other officials. “It was determined that the detainees violated industrial safety requirements,” the investigative committee reported.

Since the beginning of the year, the Russian government’s mine oversight body had conducted 127 inspections there, finding 914 violations., The mine operator was fined a measly $53,000.

The mine, whose main owner is billionaire Mikhail Fedyaev, had two earlier deadly explosions, one in 2004 that killed 13 workers and another in 1981 that killed five.

With coal prices reaching record levels, bosses like those at SDS-Coal seek to speed up production to maximize profits. The company is Russia’s third-largest coal-mining outfit.