Kunshan explosion factory ignored several danger warnings, says regulator

Conditions notoriously bad at workshop where blast killed at least 75, injured 186

PUBLISHED : Monday, 04 August, 2014, 4:23am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 17 January, 2018, 12:49pm

Workers at the Taiwanese-owned metalwork factory in Kunshan where an explosion on Saturday has killed at least 75 people said the dangerous, dusty work conditions that sparked the blast had been known about for years.

The city's work safety regulator said it had warned the factory of the potential for an explosion several times, but it was ignored.

The blast is thought to have been triggered by a flame in a dust-filled workshop used to polish car wheel hubs.

Video: Scores dead and hundreds injured in Jiangsu factory explosion

Some 186 workers were seriously burned or injured by the explosion at Kunshan Zhongrong Metal Products Company.

They were sent to neighbouring cities including Shanghai, Suzhou, Nantong and Wuxi for treatment.

Many distraught relatives were still searching for loved ones yesterday as DNA tests were carried out to identify the dead.

Wu Ming, a 45-year-old worker from Sichuan province, has worked in the plant's sand-blasting workshop for seven years, near to where the blast occurred. He said the car parts factory was well-known among migrant workers for its "dirty environment, but high wages".

"I have friends in that workshop and I often go there because there's a toilet in that workshop and there isn't one in mine," he said, adding that the polishing workshop was usually full of dust.

Employees wore masks during work hours, but dust still got into their noses, according to Wu.

"Each time I went to that room there was dust everywhere: on the ground, on workers' faces and on their clothes."

Most of the staff in the polishing workshop were aged between 35 and 45 and were their families' "bread winners".

"Workers in that workshop told me they knew it was a dangerous job and it was bad for their health, but they had to earn money for their kids," he said.

He was working at the time of the explosion and was hit by shards of glass when the windows were blown in.

Wu helped lay the bodies of dead colleagues on the ground in front of the factory. "Some of them had just had breakfast with me that morning," he said.

A former employee in her 50s said her neighbours often joked that she seemed to be working in a coal mine because she looked so black after work. The woman, who worked at Zhongrong in 2006, said as far as she was aware the factory cleaned up the dust every other day.

"We knew the dust would hurt our throats and there was a risk of an explosion, but we had no choice and we needed more money," said the woman, who declined to give her name.

A migrant worker from Shaanxi province whose brother was being treated in hospital for burns to his head, back and feet said his sibling seemed unaware of the safety risks.

"Perhaps it's because he had only been working there for one month," he said.

The man said his brother found the job exhausting because his workload had previously been shared by three people.

Staff member Wu said employees had to work for at least 12 hours a day starting at 7am in the summer for about 5,000 yuan (HK$6,200) a month.

Five executives at Zhongrong have been detained by the police.

No one at the headquarters of the company in Taiwan could be reached for comment.