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New law needed to prevent further disaster in Turkey

After 301 workers were killed last month in Tukey’s worst ever industrial disaster, the head of a commission investigating the incident has said that a new coal law will need to be introduced in an effort to prevent further incidents.

Ali Riza Alaboyun, a deputy from the ruling AK Party who heads the parliamentary commission investigating the accident, said that coal mines require a different set of regulations due to their complexity. “By doing this, we will be able to regulate inspections and training related to coal mines separately.”

The disaster occurred in a mine fire in Soma, a small town 480km southwest of Istanbul, highlighting the gaps in Turkish regulation, specifically those pertaining to the coal industry. The event caused outrage worldwide aimed at Turkey’s infamously poor safety record and lack of legislative force, especially related to thorough inspections.

The commission has up to four months to investigate the cause of the fire, which initial reports claim may have been triggered by the coal making content with the air, then heating up and emitting deadly carbon monoxide.

Meanwhile, eight suspects, including the chief executive of Soma Mining, have been provisionally charged with “causing multiple deaths by negligence,” although the company denies any acts of negligence on its part, saying that it upheld the “highest safety measures and constant controls.”

Coal accounts for about 28 percent of Turkey’s electricity generation, a figure the government is trying to increase. Most of Turkey’s coal reserves are lignite, or brown coal, the low-quality fuel used mainly to generate electricity.

Nevertheless, dangers in the coal industry are not unique to Turkey, according to the World Coal Association who points out that “China’s coal industry, in particular, has an unacceptably high fatality rate, particularly due to the number of unregulated small coal mines that have operated in recent years.”

Nevertheless, coal deaths in China have dropped over recent years, from 7 000 coal worker deaths in 2002 down to just over 1 000 last year. But Yücel Demiral, an occupational health specialist based in western Turkey who co-authored a paper released last year about the country’s coal mine safety, doubts that the same reduction over time is likely to take place in Turkey.

Even with the ongoing investigation and talks about stricter government regulation, Demiral has expressed little hope much real change would occur as a result of the incident. “It’s more blaming the victims,” he said. “They are ignoring the problem.”

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