News / Asia

China Factory Blasts Highlight Gaps in Workplace Safety

Family members cry at a caring centre for relatives of victims of a factory explosion, in Kunshan, Jiangsu province, August 3, 2014. Family members cry at a caring centre for relatives of victims of a factory explosion, in Kunshan, Jiangsu province, August 3, 2014.
x
Family members cry at a caring centre for relatives of victims of a factory explosion, in Kunshan, Jiangsu province, August 3, 2014.
Family members cry at a caring centre for relatives of victims of a factory explosion, in Kunshan, Jiangsu province, August 3, 2014.
Shannon Van Sant

A massive explosion that killed at least 75 people and wounded 186 at a Chinese metal works plant is highlighting how the country continues to struggle with worker safety.

Chinese state media say the explosion at a metal works plant in Jiangsu happened early Saturday when a fire ripped through the factory floor. The plant manufactured auto parts and is one of the suppliers for American car company General Motors.

An initial Chinese government probe indicated that the explosion might have been caused by dust which ignited inside the workshop, where workers were polishing hubcaps. The fire destroyed most of the factory’s roof.

Enforcement

Geoffrey Crothall of China Labor Bulletin said Chinese laws exist to ensure worker safety, but they are not enforced. “The explosion at the factory in Kunshan illustrates once again that although there are many laws and regulations outlining health and safety standards in the workplace those standards are not properly enforced by local authorities,” he stated.

As authorities investigate the incident at Zhongrong Metal Products plant, General Motors released a statement saying it has no relationship with Zhongrong. GM said the company is a subcontractor for the “Dicastal” company that GM purchases car components from. GM said under its agreement with Dicastal, all subcontractors are obligated to follow local health and safety codes.

Crothall said western companies are limited in what they can do to enforce safety standards at their Chinese suppliers. “They don’t own the factory, they don’t have people on the ground. They don’t understand exactly what the work practices are at these factories,” he said.

Previous incidents

On Monday, another massive fire broke out at a petrochemical plant in Gansu Province. Authorities suspect the blaze was triggered by a leak at an air separation unit. The fire was later contained with no casualties.

Last Thursday, also at a chemicals factory and in Jiangsu Province, a fire broke out at a plant where several barrels of chemicals were being stored. No casualties were reported in that incident.

Worker safety has been a persistent issue in China. Last year a fire at a poultry market killed 119 people. In 2011, two explosions at factories manufacturing Apple products were caused by aluminum dust.

Better protection

Crothall said workers have begun demanding greater protection through China’s existing official trade union. “Now we are increasingly seeing that the official trade union in China, there is only one official trade union, does take a more proactive stance in ensuring workers rights and interests are protected,” he said.

Following Saturday’s explosion President Xi Jinping has demanded a full investigation and Premier Li Keqiang is demanding regular safety checks at factories throughout the country.

You May Like

Polls Open in Scotland Independence Vote

As race to persuade undecided voters continues, 'No' voters say they believe life in Scotland will slowly improve, 'Yes' vote not worth the risk More

China-India Border Standoff Continues as Leaders Hold Summit

New Delhi accuses hundreds of Chinese soldiers of illegally entering Indian territory in disputed region of Ladakh More

Ukrainian Activist in Despair About Future of Her Country

IrIna Dovgan, accused of being a spy and tortured by pro-Russian separatists, is appealing to UN Human Rights Council to support her country More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
A Dinosaur Fit for Land and Wateri
X
September 17, 2014 8:44 PM
Residents and tourists in Washington D.C. can now examine a life-size replica of an unusual dinosaur that lived almost a hundred million years ago in northern Africa. Scientists say studying the behemoth named Spinosaurus helps them better understand how some prehistoric animals adapted to life on land and in water. The Spinosaurus replica is on display at the National Geographic museum. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video A Dinosaur Fit for Land and Water

Residents and tourists in Washington D.C. can now examine a life-size replica of an unusual dinosaur that lived almost a hundred million years ago in northern Africa. Scientists say studying the behemoth named Spinosaurus helps them better understand how some prehistoric animals adapted to life on land and in water. The Spinosaurus replica is on display at the National Geographic museum. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Iraqi Kurdistan Church Helps Christian Children Cope find shelter in churches in the Kurdish capital, Irbil

In the past six weeks, tens of thousands of Iraqi Christians have been forced to flee their homes by Islamic State militants and find shelter in churches in the Kurdish capital, Irbil. Despite U.S. airstrikes in the region, the prospect of people returning home is still very low and concerns are starting to grow over the impact this is having on the displaced youth. Sebastian Meyer reports from Irbil on how one church is coping.
Video

Video NASA Picks Boeing, SpaceX to Carry Astronauts Into Space

The U.S. space agency, NASA, has chosen Boeing and SpaceX companies to build the next generation of spacecraft that will carry U.S. astronauts to the International Space Station by the year 2017. The deal with private industry enables NASA to end its dependence on Russia to send space crews into low Earth orbit and back. Zlatica Hoke has more.
Video

Video Future of Ukrainian Former President's Estate Uncertain

More than six months after Ukraine's former President Viktor Yanukovych fled revolution to Russia, authorities have yet to gain control of his palatial estate. Protesters occupy the grounds and opened it to tourists but they are also refusing to turn it over to the state. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from Mezhigirya, just north of Kyiv.
Video

Video China Muslims Work to Change Perceptions After Knife Attacks

China says its has sentenced three men to death and one woman to life in prison for a deadly knife attack in March that left more than 30 dead and 140 injured. Beijing says Muslim militants from China's restive western region of Xinjiang carried out the attacks. Now, more than six months after the incident, residents in the city are still coping with the aftermath. VOA's Bill Ide has more from Kunming.
Video

Video Enviropreneur Seeks to Save the Environment, Empower the Community

Lorna Rutto, a former banker, is now an ‘enviropreneur’ - turning plastic waste into furniture and fences discusses the challenges she faces in Africa with raw materials and the environment.
Video

Video West Trades Accusations Over Ransoms

As world leaders try to forge a common response to the threat posed by Islamic State militants in Iraq and Syria, there is simmering tension over differing policies on paying ransoms. In the past month, the jihadist group has beheaded two Americans and one Briton. Both countries refuse to pay ransom money. As Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA from London, there is uncertainty in the approach of some other European nations.
Video

Video Scotland Independence Bid Stokes Global Interest

The people of Scotland are preparing to vote on whether to become independent and break away from the rest of Britain, in a referendum being watched carefully in many other countries. Some see it as a risky experiment; while others hope a successful vote for independence might energize their own separatist demands. Foreign immigrants to Scotland have a front row seat for the vote. VOA’s Henry Ridgwell spoke to some of them in Edinburgh.


Carnage and mayhem are part of daily life in northern Nigeria, the result of a terror campaign by the Islamist group Boko Haram. Fears are growing that Nigeria’s government may not know how to counter it, and may be making things worse. More

AppleAndroid