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Safety at deadly China plant 'chaotic'

07 June 2013, 14:00

Beijing — China's workplace safety agency blamed both factory managers and government inspectors on Friday for the "extremely chaotic" neglect of safety at a poultry plant where a deadly fire killed 120 workers this week.

Safety exits were blocked at the Jilin Baoyuanfeng Poultry Company plant and managers neglected to hold required safety drills or educate workers, State Administration of Work Safety head Yang Dongliang was quoted as saying, confirming workers' accounts. No one at the plant took responsibility for safety, while the relevant local government departments failed to make proper inspections, Yang said, according to a statement on the administration's website.

"An initial investigation shows that the management of work safety at this plant was extremely chaotic," Yang was quoted as telling investigators and other officials on Thursday at a meeting in Changchun, the capital of Jilin province in the northeast where the disaster occurred.

"The accident also revealed that local government and relevant departments failed in their responsibilities while oversight and inspection work was weak and incomplete. This was a serious case of negligence," Yang said.

Monday's fire was China's deadliest industrial accident in five years and highlighted the continuing gross neglect of worker safety, despite the growth and sophistication of the world's second-largest economy.

Initial reports said the fire appeared to have been sparked by an explosion caused by leaking ammonia, a chemical kept pressurised as part of the cooling system in meat processing plants. The fire broke out during a shift change when about 350 workers were at the plant.

Owner, managers taken into custody

In addition to the dead, 77 workers were hospitalised with injuries, while another 17 workers earlier listed as missing had been found alive, according to the Jilin provincial government. State media said about 90% of the victims were female, their ages ranged from 17 to the 50s and they were from nearby farming villages.

The plant's owner and managers have been taken into police custody, while Jilin province has ordered a wide-ranging crackdown on fire safety violations and checks on mines and industries dealing with fireworks and dangerous chemicals.

Workers quoted in state media said exits were locked to secure the property and to keep them from stepping outside for breaks, despite the requirement in Article 24 of China's emergency response law that safety exits be kept open and clearly marked. China's labour law also mandates safe working conditions.

Only a single door was open to permit escape. Workers trampled each other in the dark trying to survive.

China has a raft of laws on workplace safety, but those who monitor labour conditions say enforcement is lax, with factories themselves usually left to decide whether or not to follow them.

- AP

Tags china

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