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A gas leak caused an explosion in a Chinese poultry factory, which in turn caught fire, engulfing the facility in three minutes and killing 119 people.
As reported in The Wall Street Journal, all of the doors to the chicken slaughterhouse facility were locked from the outside except for one. According to China Central Television, the explosion, which was caused by leaking ammonia – a toxic substance commonly used as a coolant in meat processing facilities – was large enough to effect an area encompassing 183,000 square feet. The result was a fire that ravaged the plant and killed 119 workers. It is not clear if the small chicken processing plant was equipped with a toxic gas detector or adequate fire alarm system.
The plant is located in Dehui – the Iowa of China – in Jilin province near the North Korean border. Just a few months ago, a pork processing plant suffered from a similar ammonia leak, compromising the health of over 400 workers, according to news agency Xinhua. More than 70,000 people have perished in China during the last two years as a result of industrial accidents, as the WSJ noted.
The difficulty in enforcing safety rules
The Ottawa Citizen cited the locked doors of the factory as a symbol of the persistent laxness in China regarding the enforcement of its safety protocols. Officials are often entangled with industry leaders and have little real incentive to pursue workplace violations. However, the Canadian and U.S. press were not the only ones to be critical of China's inaction when addressing safety.
"Past investigations have shown that poor safety awareness and inadequate supervision caused many of the accidents, despite a repeated emphasis on work safety from the central government," Xinhua News Agency said in a statement. "The accidents are also the result of companies' desire to pursue profit at the cost of safety, as well as the laziness of officials who fail to fulfill their responsibilities."
The safety problems are only compounded by the inability of Chinese workers to unionize. In addition, as Geoffrey Crothall, spokesman for the China Labor Bulletin, noted, China has a slew of safety laws but they are not enforced and suffer from vague details.
Many is the U.S. are concerned with the worker and food safety conditions in China as Shuanghui International Holdings recently offered $4.7 billion in an effort to purchase U.S. pork producer Smithfield Foods – what some are calling the biggest Chinese takeover of a U.S. company ever, according to The Wall Street Journal.
Industrial Safety News brought to you by Safety Systems Technology, Inc., leaders in fire and gas detection systems.