• Ştefan Busnatu, specialist physician in cardiology at the Emergency Clinical Hospital “Bagdasar Arseni” in Bucharest, confirms the connection between the increasing number of deaths among the employees of CE Oltenia and their difficult labor conditions. In the last decade, an increasing number of employees from Complexul Energetic Oltenia (CEO) have died because of cardiac arrest caused by the work environment.
• Complexul Energetic Oltenia has been around for about 40 years and produces energy based on coal. Unfortunately, most of the equipment is around since its inception, and the malfunction of these machines has been taking the lives of both young and old people. Simultaneously, dust in the workplace causes heart disease, which often leads to death; many before employees reach retirement age. Trade unionists call for a lower retirement age.
• Over 50,000 cases were investigated at Târgu Cărbuneşti Prosecutor’s Office, from 2012 until the end of 2021. Out of these, about 3,500 went to Court.
• Prepared to be slowly shut down because it uses solid fuel for energy production, the war in Ukraine has led EU authorities to resort to facilities such as CE Oltenia, so that European states become less dependent on Russian gas. Therefore, hundreds of young people will be employed in the next period and the recruiting process has already been launched.
Dozens of employees from Complexul Energetic Oltenia (CEO) die every year, according to the unionists, most of them aged 55-60, and far from retirement age. Although these cases are not considered officially work accidents, most of the causes that lead to the death of employees are heart conditions exacerbated by the work environment.
Trade unionists are fighting to reduce the retirement age, a target which is still unfulfilled.
The Union leader of CE Oltenia, Manu Tomescu, explained that the issue of acknowledgement of the harmful work conditions in quarries and thermal power plants has been debated for at least two decades, while in this time, he says, the authorities did nothing but “cheating the employees”.
“Romania has updated the legislation according to European laws and regulations and additional provisions have also been introduced. For example, on special working conditions, it was stipulated that the employer is bound to standardize such conditions, if there are cases. But our Romanians, especially in mining and energy industries, 20 years ago, they chose to standardize these conditions only on paper. More specific, they did nothing but cheat the employees at that time, in the years 2000-2001, in order not to pay them according their work conditions. This was the starting point for further reporting through which they pretended to have standardized work conditions in the mining and thermal quarries. And that actually has never happened”, says Tomescu.
He also mentions that because of this situation, this field of activity has the oldest workforce, with the lowest life expectancy.
“Now the effects start to be visible. Because of this abuse, this scam on special work conditions, today we see the effects, meaning that this guild of miners and energy workers from Complexul Energetic Oltenia and not only, but also the people from the power plants in Hunedoara – Midia, Paroșeni as well, were left without the special work conditions and have become the oldest category of employees in the entire Romanian industry. We have an average age of about 51-52 years old, which you will not find in other professional activities in the Romanian industry. Mainly, these are the effects. The effort is very high, people are fewer and fewer. The fact that people work in these work conditions, contaminated and with risk factors, it severely affects their health and life expectancy, which is dramatically lowered”, says the unionist.
The trade unionists protested every day for 13 months in order to get their rights respected and to lower the retirement age. People are demanding that, under certain conditions, the retirement age should be reduced by up to 13 years.
“For this we have protested in the last 13 months, practically from last year until now. Through our protests, we have driven the political decision-makers to issue two laws – Law 197, and now Law 74/2022, in order to reduce the retirement age, i.e., to reconsider the special work conditions for this professional category, as is obvious and normal. However, after the issuance of these laws, especially Law 197, which provided recognition that the activities carried out in these conditions must be included in special work conditions, the Romanian Government and officials from the Ministry of Labor and the National Pension Authority, refused to implement a law that has been passed, adopted and enacted by the President of Romania and has been published in the Official Gazette. The law stipulates that for miners and energy industry workers, who have been active in these work conditions, the retirement age should be lowered by 13 years, provided they have at least 25 years in this activity field and 30 years of pension contributions,” says Tomescu.
New hopes come with a new law, enacted this year.
“Now, through the recently enacted Law 74/2022, politicians have promised us that they have solved this problem and that the situation is unlocked, and the officials from the Ministry of Labor and the National Pension Authority will recognize these activities in such way that our colleagues will no longer die because of their activity, during the work lifetime, so they will be able to benefit of their retirement after a period of 30-35, or even 40 years some of them, of contributions to the pension system “, concluded Manu Tomescu.
Image caption: “The fact that people work in these work conditions, with noxae and other risk factors, severely affects their health and life expectancy is dramatically reduced,” says Manu Tomescu, unionist at CEO.
CARDIOLOGIST: WORKING CONDITIONS, THE MAIN CAUSE OF DEATH
The cardiologist Stefan Busnatu, MD at the Emergency Clinical Hospital “Bagdasar Arseni” in Bucharest says about Romania that is a “red zone” on Europe’s map, in terms of cardiovascular diseases.
As for the energy industry miners, the specialist mentions that the work environment has a decisive influence on these conditions.
For the first time, a confirmation is provided by a specialist regarding the connection between the work conditions in the quarries and in thermal power plants of CE Oltenia and the large number of employees dying before retirement.
“Particularly in the Oltenia region, and especially in a targeted discussion on mortality at a very young age, we must keep in mind that the work conditions of the miners are extremely difficult. In addition to the classic exposure to the risk factors for cardiovascular disease I mentioned, there are other associated factors relevant to that area – we speak about the fine particles resulting from the coal mining process, fine particles of 2.5 microns, 10 microns.
We talk about the component resulting from nitrogen dioxide, an extremely important and toxic element when talking about cardiovascular disease and the studies and research that are performed in Europe – because we cannot state that we have some studies performed in Romania, at this level – show us that besides the lung disease caused by the deposition of these particles in the lungs, which generate the so-called occupational lung diseases -whether it is silicosis, pneumoconiosis, anthracosis – this particles seem to influence the metabolic process in the body as well. Essentially, it ends up changing the structure of the blood vessels and the structure of the heart as well. Somehow, on long run, it leads to hypertension and to structural changes as well, called cardiopathies – when the actual functionality of the heart is lost. If we have a combination of classic cardiovascular risk factors, associated with the exposure component, we have an inherently increasing risk”, says Dr. Busnatu.
Other factors lead to the aggravation of these diseases as well, shows the specialist: “Going further, we must keep in mind that in addition to exposure to the actual polluting environment, we also have the impact of work in shifts, night work, extremely hard physical effort, but also the noise, which has a very big impact when it comes to the actual stress that is generated in the human body, and this stress overwhelms the entire cardiovascular system”.
Ștefan Busnatu is a cardiologist, Doctor of Medical Sciences, Deputy Dean at the Faculty of Medicine – U. M. F. “Carol Davila” and a young ambassador of Romania on Cardiovascular Prevention representing the European Association of Preventive Cardiology, member of the European Society of Cardiology.
His medical activity is carried out in the Emergency Clinical Hospital “Bagdasar Arseni”, within the Cardiology Clinic.
WHAT THE TERRITORIAL LABOR INSPECTORATE SAYS
Things do not change in the quarries and in the thermal power plants, despite the fact that CEO is fined regularly by the labor inspectors.
According to an info provided at the end of March 2022 by the Territorial Labor Inspectorate (ITM) Gorj, during 2021, Complexul Energetic Oltenia registered and reported to the Territorial Labor Inspectorate Gorj 22 work accidents, including a fatal one.
As a consequence of the verifications carried out, the labor inspectors assigned to control the occupational health and safety applied five sanctions in the amount of 21,500 RON.
In 2022 (until 29.03.2022), Complexul Energetic Oltenia registered and reported to the Territorial Labor Inspectorate Gorj one occupational accident with temporary incapacity to work.
As a consequence of the verifications carried out, the labor inspectors assigned to control the occupational health and safety applied four sanctions in the amount of 15,500 RON.
Corrective measures have been ordered for the deficiencies found.
“Currently are under investigation three fatalities at the company Complexul Energetic Oltenia”, ITM Gorj indicates.
PUBLIC PROSECUTOR’S OFFICE: OVER 3,500 FILES REFERRED TO COURT
Many of the cases regarding the employees of Complexul Energetic Oltenia, that lost their lives, end up being investigated by prosecutors. According to an official info from the Prosecutor’s Office based on Târgu Cărbuneşti District Court, from 2012 to date, approximately 3,500 cases have been sent to court.
“As response to your request, based on Law no. 544/2001 on free access to information of public interest, we inform you that in the period 2012 – December 2021 at the Prosecutor’s Office were registered a number of 50,245 cases, out of which 3,588 were sent to Court”, is the answer of the Prosecutor’s Office.
EXPLANATIONS OF THE OFFICIALS FROM COMPLEXUL ENERGETIC OLTENIA
The officials of Complexul Energetic Oltenia declared that in the last decade, they have registered only 24 fatal occupational accidents “as a result of the major risks implied by the specific activities of coal mining and extraction”.
Complexul Energetic Oltenia, looking at the period 2012-2022, had a total number of about 19,000 employees in 2012, and has currently reached a number of 11,500 employees, as result of a continuous restructuring process, needed in order to stay on the market, considering the economic conditions.
In the last decade we have registered, in total, 24 fatal occupational accidents as a result of the major risks implied by the specific activities of coal mining and extraction, and electricity and heat production from coal.
Basically, these activities mean usage of a wide range of equipment implying high risks of injury (electric motors, speed reduction units, turbines, electric generators, boilers and other pressured installations), as well as high danger working procedures (excavation, transport and storage of mining material, boiler coal combustion processes, thermodynamic processes at very high temperatures and pressures) “, shows an official communication from CE Oltenia.
Additionally, the CEO officials claim that “most of the jobs in the mining and electricity production industries have always been considered special working conditions”.
“Starting from 18.08.2021, with the Law no.197, a large part of the jobs in CE Oltenia have been classified as jobs under special conditions. At CE Oltenia, compliance with occupational health and safety standards has always been a managerial priority, the continuous improvement of working conditions for all employees and maintaining their safety at work have led to a decrease in the yearly number of work accidents (example: 6 fatal work accidents in 2012; 2 fatal work accidents in 2021)”, the representatives of the Complex also inform.
Regarding the deaths happening outside the working hours, the CE Oltenia representatives blame the living conditions of the people and other external factors.
“For the number of deaths happening outside the working hours must be considered as well the disorders affecting the persons concerned, their living conditions (type of dwelling, the type of home heating, addictions), and the older age compared to other employers.
The average age of the staff at CE Oltenia is around 50 years, while as a consequence of the restructuring programs the number of newly hired workers was very low. For this reason, the human resources at CE Oltenia undergo a continuous aging process, and the average duration of their exposure to the risks and work environment detailed above exceeds 25 years.
Complexul Energetic Oltenia has many employees between 50 and 65 years old, and at that age inevitably appear medical conditions that are not mandatory caused by the work conditions”, the officials of CE Oltenia state as well.
They also ask for a comparison with the situation in other fields of activity.
“For a fair assessment of the situation at CE Oltenia, a comparison with the situation of other large employers in the national economy with similar conditions should be considered: the same number of employees, the same average age of employees, the same level of risk of injury and occupational diseases, the same professional categories (locksmiths, welders, electricians, machinists, operators), etc.”, concludes the Communication and Public Relations Office of Complexul Energetic Oltenia.
CE OLTENIA HIRES 600 NEW EMPLOYEES
As of April 2020, Complexul Energetic Oltenia employs 600 people for a fixed term, writes the local press.
Thus, in order to increase the production of electricity, CE Oltenia is hiring a number of 600 people for as mechanical locksmith, electrician and welder in the mining activity, for fixed term, until 31.12.2022.
The selection procedure for the recruitment of required staff was initiated in December 2021.
Following the files analysis (qualifications, studies, criminal record), 1,040 people qualified; further they took part in professional skills testing between 4 and 11 April, as scheduled.
The facilities that CE Oltenia has will increase the production so the European countries become less and less dependent on Russian gas.
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