In the wake of a deadly accident at a Chinese factory, Beijing is instituting a new push for workplace safety. On Saturday morning, an explosion at a wheel-polishing plant in Jiangsu province killed 75 and left 185 injured. The State Administration of Work Safety blamed the deadly accident on “very serious dereliction of duty” on the part of factory management.
The explosion Saturday was notable in its severity. Xinhua reports that a total of 265 workers were in the factory at the time of the explosion, meaning only five escaped completely unharmed. Of the 185 injured, Xinhua says, “95 percent are in serious or critical condition.” A doctor interviewed by Xinhua said that many of the injured had “suffered burns [over] 80 to 90 percent of their bodies.”
Yang Dongliang, the director of China’s State Administration of Work Safety, headed up an investigation into the explosion. He told Xinhua that “the blast exposed poor management by the factory and inadequate implementation of supervision regulations by local government departments.” Specifically, he cited an excessive build-up of aluminum alloy dust within the factory, due to a poorly designed factory building and “a shortage of dust removal equipment.” Overcrowding was also cited as a safety violation. Workers interviewed by Xinhua noted that the dust within the building was often so thick that workers had difficulty seeing. The dust caused the explosion when it ignited — Yang said an investigation into the source of the initial spark was still ongoing.
The problem, as described by Yang Dongliang, is a common one in China: government regulations and standards are not being properly implemented at the local level. As one factory employee told Xinhua, conditions are usually straightened up in time for routine inspections, “but after the checks, no one’s really following any safety rules.” The issue of implementation has led not only to work safety and food safety scandals, but is also a major cause of China’s environmental woes.
Yang put the “major responsibility” for the accident on Kunshan Zhongrong Metal Products Co., the Taiwanese company that owns the factory. However, Yang added that “local government departments were also to blame for poor implementation of regulations.” According to South China Morning Post, the city work safety regulator was aware of the poor conditions at the factory and had repeatedly warned the factory that an explosion was possible. These warnings were simply ignored, apparently without any repercussions from the local government.
In response to the accident, the State Council Work Safety Commission is launching a campaign to properly handle combustible materials, focusing particularly on “factories that process aluminum, magnesium, coal, wood, paper, tobacco, cotton and plastic … and have potential ignition sources.” China already has safety regulations in place for preventing factory explosions; the trick is convincing local governments that it is in their best interest to enforce these regulations, rather than turning a blind eye to noncompliance by lucrative local industries.