INDUSTRIAL accidents in China due to haphazard practices may well translate into higher insurance costs for Hong Kong manufacturers, according to an insurance executive. ''Unless people improve safety standards and fire-fighting facilities, insurance companies will be reluctant. Most insurers are very cautious on underwriting risks in China because the experience has been very poor,'' said National Mutual general manager Dave Rajpal. He said industrial as well as natural disasters in China had caused a general sentiment of caution among underwriters. Safety violations caused a series of serious plant fires in the first four months of this year, leaving more than 700 workers dead. The toll has jumped further with serious recent accidents in Zhuhai and Shenzhen. The Zhuhai blaze and collapse claimed 76 lives and injured 160 others. A fire in a Shenzhen leather factory caused six deaths early last month and a similar incident in Jiangmen killed 10 workers and injured 30. The recent fatalities due to safety violations, mostly on foreign-owned sites, have caused a flurry, a finger pointing and consensus calls on Beijing to toughen laws and tighten enforcement. China has countered that foreign violators must bear the brunt of the blame. Hong Kong industries, meanwhile, have opened talks with unions. China's newspapers reported recently the primary factor in Guangdong fatalities has been foreign defiance of safety regulations, saying slack enforcement of rules by officials, inclined not to be strict with joint ventures, was the secondary factor. Hong Kong insurers were extensively involved in southern China, covering property, manufacturing and processing, Mr Rajpal said. He said rates for China were higher than for Hong Kong because of inadequate private and public fire facilities, lack of infrastructure and sub-standard safety practices. Hong Kong unions reported that 127 of the 136 deaths in the Guangdong area alone were at foreign-owned sites. ''If companies do write the risk, of course, it's going to reflect on the price based on the individual account. Every company brings different risks. For industries that reflect high loss ratios, premiums will always go up,'' he said. Good managers with safe operations should have no problems getting coverage, Mr Rajpal said, a factor which could be the spur for owners to respond to worker safety. Hong Kong Federation of Industries director Warren Kwok agreed. ''Some members have encountered difficulty in getting insurance coverage in China,'' he said, adding frequency of accidents as well as flooding were factors. Already there was a trend for companies to increase safety initiatives but poor infrastructure remained a handicap, Mr Rajpal said. ''I had a client who had installed a sprinkler system in his factory and then found he could not get enough water to supply it. Even with some of the roads, it is hard to get trucks through,'' he said. Even the laws are poorly equipped to deal with worker safety. ''The problem is a matter of both the law and its enforcement. If the law was complete it could specify the number of enforcement agencies,''said Masons Solicitors head of the China department, Jonathan T P Cheung. He said Beijing must set a work-safety ordinance and enforce it. The most important factor was the lack of a common safety standard for all industries, he said. National worker safety laws are being promulgated, and Mr Cheung suggests tough measures, such as increasing the number of inspectors, setting a floor for fines, and demolishing buildings that fail to pass muster. But cracking down on foreign investors while the law is still incomplete would leave operators at the mercy of enforcement agencies. As well, any steps thought to jeopardise competitiveness is unlikely. 'We are quite willing to recommend that members follow labour laws, but we are a private group. We simply do not have the authority to impose on our members,'said Mr Kwok.