At least 19 killed in massive explosion at fireworks factory

The death toll in yesterday’s explosion at a fireworks factory in northeastern China has risen to 19, with more than 150 injured or missing. It is still not known for sure how many workers were in the factory at the time.

The massive explosion leveled the entire factory building in Yichun, Heilongjiang, and shattered windows more than a kilometer way. The official Xinhua news agency reported that more than 1,700 firefighters had been dispatched to the scene to prevent the blaze from spreading to nearby firework warehouses.

Location of factory in Wumahe district, Yichun, Heilongjiang

View Factory explosion in Wumahe, Yichun, Heilongjiang in a larger map

Monday’s explosion is the latest in a string of major work-related accidents across China, most noticeably in coal mines, but also on construction sites and in factories processing hazardous materials. At least 13 people died and 120 were injured in an explosion three weeks ago when excavation work at an abandoned plastics factory in Nanjing damaged an underground propylene pipeline.

China’s state council announced on 26 July that the standard compensation award for work-related injuries and death will be substantially increased next year. The one off compensation payment for work-related death will be increased from 200,000 yuan to 343,500 yuan. Additional payments will also be made for funeral expenses and monthly pension payments to the relatives of the deceased bringing the total compensation to 618,000 yuan on average.

CLB executive director Han Dongfang, in a recent press release, welcomed the increased compensation levels as being more in line with the long-term needs of workers and their families, but pointed out that the most important issue for the government was how to prevent industrial accidents in the first place.

Han proposed that the government should make enterprise owners criminally liable for accidents that could have been prevented. “The employer should be held criminally liable unless he can prove that the accident was a result of force majeure,” Han said.

Currently, it is left to the local government, police and procuratorate to decide whether or not press criminal charges. Very often the local authorities will only prosecute employers when pressured to do so by higher levels of government. By placing the burden of proof on the employer, Han argued, the local authorities would have no room left to maneuver and would have to take action.
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