Two people died in a mining accident in the western Georgian coal mining town of Tkibuli last week. The accident itself was tragic, but even more heartbreaking when you consider the context.

The dangers of working in Georgia’s mines are well documented, including by Human Rights Watch in a 2019 report. Sweeping changes to Georgia’s Labor Code in 2020 should help change this. The reforms introduced regulations on such important issues as working hours, overtime, night shifts, weekly rest periods and daily breaks. They also strengthened the Labor Inspectorate – the body charged with enforcing labor laws – by granting it more independence and expanding its mandate.

The reforms came into force in January this year, but their effectiveness has so far been limited. One problem seems to be that the labor inspectorate does not have the financial and human resources and support it needs to be effective. Or it’s possible that the accident at the Tkibuili mines could have been prevented.

According to the Georgia Fair Labor Platform, of which Human Rights Watch is a member, the regulator has conducted just 10 mining industry inspections nationwide since September 2019. None of them in Tkibuli, one of Georgia’s major mining regions.

Covid-19 has made the situation worse. Since spring 2020, the regulator has been tasked with inspecting thousands of facilities across Georgia for compliance with pandemic-related restrictions. Since then it has been able to do little else. According to regulator statistics, the agency conducted 12,276 Covid-19 inspections and activities in the first quarter of 2021. During the same period, there were only 207 safety inspections and 45 general labor rights inspections. In other words, about 98 percent of the Inspectorate’s work was related to pandemics.

Ensuring protection against COVID-19 infection in the workplace is important, but it should not come at the expense of resources dedicated to protecting worker safety more broadly. By prioritizing Covid-19 compliance inspections, the government is allowing its response to the pandemic to undermine its recent advances in workplace safety. The Government of Georgia should take action and give the Labor Inspectorate the resources and political support it needs to do its job effectively.