Workers spared in second Shenzhen toy factory fire

A FIRE broke out at a Hong Kong-owned factory in Shenzhen yesterday, the second such blaze in 10 days.

Although no one was injured in the fire, the building was destroyed and firemen again said they had been hampered by a lack of water.

The fire broke out at about 5 am yesterday in a two-storey electronics factory in Wanfeng village in Shajiang, not far from Kuiyong, where the factory fire on November 19 left 82 people dead.

Both factories were owned by Hong Kong businessmen, fuelling concerns among labour groups over the safety of workers on the mainland.

Yesterday's fire, northwest of the Shenzhen city area, was under control after about two hours, but last night investigators were still uncertain of the cause.

No one was injured in the empty factory as most of the 800 workers were still sleeping at their hostel, 10 minutes' walk away.

The electronics factory was set up about three years ago and is a branch of Wong's Electronic Co Ltd in Hong Kong.

Chief Executive of the Hong Kong Confederation of Trade Unions, Lee Cheuk-yan criticised the Federation of Hong Kong Industries for not suggesting improvements for members' factories in China.

''All we have heard about so far is the holding of a seminar on fire safety next month. Whether the owners are willing to follow it is another problem,'' he said.

He claimed that many factories in southern China were designed with workers' hostels crowded alongside work rooms and storerooms, increasing the fire hazard.

''The mainland authorities should ban this kind of design as it is very dangerous if a fire breaks out.'' Anita Wong So-ching of the Hong Kong Fire Safety Association said it was important to get basic safety facilities installed in factories.

''It is quite a common problem in mainland factories that there is not even a fire extinguisher,'' she said.

Cecilia Wan Siu-sun, Wong's Electronic's administration manager in Hong Kong, rejected suggestions of poor safety facilities at the factory.

''We follow fire safety standards very closely making sure we have sufficient exits,'' she said.

Ms Wan said that although some factories sealed windows to prevent burglaries and theft, Wong's employed security guards.

In the Zhili Handicrafts Company fire, many of the 82 deaths were a result of workers being crushed in the rush to escape, exacerbated by the fact that windows had been sealed.

The Secretary-General of the Hong Kong Toys Council, Warren Kwok Chung-yee said criticism of Hong Kong businessmen was unfair as many of their factories followed the rules.

Apart from holding a seminar on fire safety next month, the Federation of Hong Kong Industries is to issue a booklet to members showing a comparison between Hong Kong and mainland fire regulations.

Meanwhile, Shenzhen government spokesman Li Xiaogan said the authorities had asked the owner of Zhili Handicrafts Company, Lo Chiu-chuen, to stay in Shenzhen until the investigation into the fire at his factory was complete.