SAFETY would have been improved in mainland factories two years ago if not for manufacturers intent on keeping costs low, it emerged last night. The disclosure came three days after 82 people were killed in a fire at a toy factory in Zuiyong, Shenzhen. Hong Kong Toys Council member Bill Blaauw said last night that Chinese authorities decided in 1991 to impose ISO 9000 quality standards - which, by lifting production standards, indirectly improve workplace safety - on all factories producing goods for export. ''By arguing against that decision, manufacturers forced authorities to introduce an extension,'' he said. That extension runs out on December 31 and is giving local manufacturers headaches, Mr Blaauw said. Inadequate safety measures and blocked exits have been blamed for the loss of life in the fire at the Zhili Handicrafts Factory on Friday. The semi-official China News Service said yesterday the toll had risen to 82 dead and 42 injured. Mr Blaauw said: ''Meeting ISO 9000 standards is a costly and time consuming exercise, but if China wants it then manufacturers have to get on with it. ''Introducing ISO 9000 standards makes sense and although they are mainly directed at improving product quality, their introduction, while not immediately solving safety problems, will definitely result in an improvement,'' he said. ISO stands for International Organisation for Standardisation - a body established in Europe in 1987 to determine and develop internationally-recognised standards specifically directed at quality. But, Mr Blaauw said the pressure caused by manufacturers being forced to meet the standards might lead to an exodus to other countries such as Indonesia and Thailand. Poor safety practices in Thailand resulted in one of the world's worst industrial fires earlier this year, when 188 people died at the Kader Industrial toy factory in Bangkok. Measures to improve safety in joint venture factories in China will head the agenda at a Hong Kong Toys Council meeting today. Mr Blaauw said Friday's fire would result in ''great priority'' being attached to discussing ways to improve safety conditions found in the more than 3,000 China-based toy factories controlled by Hong Kong interests. ''As an initial step it is likely the council will draft a letter containing proposals and recommendations on how to improve safety which will be sent out to all our members,'' Mr Blaauw said. It is expected the council will urge toy manufacturers to at least meet Hong Kong safety standards. ''Toy manufacturers with factories in China are increasingly more conscious of safety standards and obviously are very concerned, as apart from the danger to workers a disaster like that which occurred last week can be financially devastating,'' Mr Blaauw said.