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120 Dead In Chinese Factory Fire; Poor Safety Conditions Blamed

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A fire in a Chinese poultry processing plant claimed the lives of 120 workers in northern Jilin Province.

Blamed for the deadly fire were the combustible materials used to build the four-year-old plant, the absence of fire extinguishers, and insufficient escape routes, the doors of which were mostly locked, said government officials.

Locked doors can be fatal to workers, preventing them from fleeing a fire or toxic chemical spill or other industrial disaster.

Also partially to blame for the fatalities, said the government, was the lack of evacuation instructions, which workers were never given.

The US garment industry also had a deadly locked door problem in the historic Triangle Shirt Waist fire in Manhattan in 1911. Locked doors at the sweat shop trapped women inside the building as it burned, killing 119 women, and injuring 70.

Strict safety standards and a no-lock policy of fire escape doors were adopted in the US as a result of the disaster, and those standards are strictly enforced, with violators punished.

China, despite 70,000 industrial deaths in both 2010 and 2011, and 80,000 in 2012, has yet to make significant improvements in worker safety.

“Throughout China’s modern economic development there has really been very little consideration for the rights and interests of the workers,” said Li Qiang, executive director of New York-based China Labor Watch, an organizations which monitors working conditions in China.

An official Chinese news agency quoted Yang Dongliang, director of the State Administration of Work Safety as saying the plant’s safety procedures were a “total mess.” Yang also claimed the government was lax in its management and supervisory obligations.

Some twenty years ago a fire in a Chinese toy factor claimed 87 lives, many of them lost because of locked factory doors. Apparently, that lesson has not yet been learned by factory operators.

“That the workers [in the poultry plant fire] were locked inside in exactly the same way as twenty years ago…shows that laws are not being enforced and inspections are not taking place,” said Omana George of the Asia Monitor Resource Center, a worker advocacy group based in Hong Kong.

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