China Labour Bulletin is quoted in the following articles. Copyright remains with the original publisher.
By Celia Haton
he deadly fire at a poultry slaughterhouse in Jilin is China's worst factory blaze in living memory.
The death toll already exceeds that of the fire at a toy factory in Shenzhen in 1993 in which 87 people died, says Geoffrey Crothall, a spokesman for the Hong Kong-based China Labour Bulletin.
"There are cases in the coal mine industry, for example, where more than 100 miners died in an explosion, but the extent of the death toll in this tragedy is very unusual," he said.
China's central government has created thousands of workplace safety regulations ranging from the handling of toxic chemicals to the prevention of occupational illnesses.
However, these laws are often ignored by local authorities that choose instead to focus on boosting economic development.
"It is harder to regulate smaller companies in smaller cities and towns," said Zhao Zhengbing, a lawyer working on health and safety issues with Beijing's Haowei law firm.
The poultry processing plant where the explosions occurred is far away from the chief regulators in China's capital.
The Jilin Baoyuanfeng factory lies in Mishazi, a town just north of Changchun, the capital of China's north-east Jilin province.
Many buildings in China - including factories - are constructed without consideration for health and safety concerns.
Workers who escaped the fire at the Jilin poultry plant say the building's narrow hallways made it difficult to reach the exits.
In an effort to address such problems, China's Communist leaders have created several competing industrial safety organisations.
Their efforts have had some positive results - workplace accidents have dropped more than 33% in the past five years, according to comments made in January by China's then Vice Premier Zhang Dejiang.
The death toll from those accidents has also dropped, down more than 29%.
However, fire accidents at construction sites and agricultural production factories like the Jilin poultry slaughterhouse are on the rise, according to the most recent data available from China's Public Security Bureau.
In 2011, China recorded more than 125,400 fire accidents which killed more than 1,100 people: The fires caused $335m (£219m) in economic losses.
The Public Security Bureau notes that fires on construction sites rose in 2011, up 5.7% from the year before. Similarly, the number of fires in agricultural factories increased by 8.9% from 2010.
Factory bosses failed to obey safety procedures, using heat sources and electricity in unsafe ways, said the Public Security Bureau.
Experts say the incident in Jilin highlights the lack of fire prevention equipment or fire safety training available to Chinese workers.
"Over the past 10 years there has been some improvement [in accident prevention], although there is certainly no real culture of safety in Chinese workplaces," said Mr Crothall.
"Safety, unfortunately, still comes second to productivity and profits. There are, unfortunately, deaths at coal mines and factories pretty much every day, but no-one pays attention when it is one or two people."
Critics argue that factory bosses are rarely punished for workplace accidents, removing an incentive to implement regulations more strictly.
The latest accident has so far not generated a great deal of interest on Weibo, China's version of Twitter.
Without public pressure to crack down on the Jilin factory bosses, it is unlikely that significant changes will be implemented in Jilin, or indeed, across the rest of China.
By Frank Langfitt
3 June 2013
Fire and explosions ripped through a poultry plant in China Monday, claiming more than a hundred lives. It was one of China's worst factory accidents in memory. Early reports indicate that blocked exits may have contributed to the death toll.
Jonathan Kaiman in Beijing
3 June 2013
A fire in a slaughterhouse in north-eastern China has killed at least 119 people, making it one of the country's deadliest factory accidents in decades.
About 350 workers were on site at the slaughterhouse and meat processing plant owned by Baoyuanfeng Poultry company in Mishazi township, Jilin province, when it was rocked by explosions at about 6am on Monday, Chinese state media reported. About 100 workers managed to escape from the plant, while others were trapped inside by a locked factory gate.
The fire has been mostly extinguished, and rescue work is still underway, the China News Service reported. The death toll is expected to rise, an unnamed provincial government media official told the Associated Press. Police have evacuated residents nearby.
"I started working at 6am along with another 100 workers in my workshop. There were two workshops in the plant," Wang Fengya, a 44-year-old female worker who escaped the inferno with light injuries, told China's official newswire, Xinhua.
"Soon after, someone shouted: 'Run away!' and we quickly ran to the exit, which is about 40 metres away from my seat. Suddenly, the lights inside went out and the plant got quite dark ... when I finally ran out and looked back at the plant, I saw high flames," she said.
State media blamed the explosions and fire on an electrical problem and a chemical ammonia leak – the gas is commonly used as a coolant in meat processing plants, which are typically kept at near-freezing temperatures. Flammable foam insulation in the plant's walls may have also contributed to the blaze, the Associated Press reported.
The state broadcaster CCTV quoted workers as saying that the fire occurred between shifts and may have started in a locker room.
China's president, Xi Jinping, and its premier, Li Keqiang, have ordered an investigation into the cause of the accident.
"Any fatal casualties over 100 that's not a natural disaster will make the government very nervous, in fear of possible social unrest," Willy Wo-lap Lam, an adjunct history professor at the Chinese University of Hong Kong told Bloomberg. "This should serve as a big lesson for the government to put on even more stringent safety checks and to crackdown on any project corruption."
The plant was built in 2009 and produces 67,000 tonnes of chicken products annually, Xinhua reported. "Firefighters say the interior layout of the plant is complicated, and the exits are very narrow," according to ChinaView TV.
Guo Yan, 39, told Xinhua that she tried to escape, but the emergency exit to her workstation was blocked. "I could only crawl desperately forward," she said. "I worked alongside an old lady and a young girl, but I don't know if they survived or not."
The fire's death toll rose throughout the day, from more than 60 at about 2pm to 92 an hour later, and to 119 by early evening. Pictures posted to the popular web portal Netease show firefighters spraying down the large white building, its walls warped and charred, its roof disintegrating.
"It's a tragedy of immense proportions," said Geoff Crothall, communications director for the Hong Kong-based advocacy group China Labour Bulletin. "Certainly for factory fires I cannot think of anything that compares with this."
Crothall said that while coal mine explosions in China have been known to kill hundreds of workers, the scope of Monday's blaze is "really unprecedented" for factory accidents — the most comparable incident occurred in November, 1993, when a fire at a plastic toy factory in Shenzhen killed 80 people, most of them young women.
"Up until now, that was the benchmark for factory tragedies in China," Crothall said. "And in fact it came as such a shock at the time, that it was one of the main reasons for the drafting of China's first labour law in 1994."
The fire is China's deadliest since 2000, when a Christmas Day blaze at a nightclub in Luoyang, Henan province killed 309 people.
Crothall said that China's fire safety record is poor by international standards, adding that the problem generally lies with enforcement rather than legislation.
"Workplace safety is still a fairly low priority, below profit and productivity," he said. "I see no sign that factory bosses or governments are taking the issue as seriously as they should."
By Michelle FlorCruz
3 June 2013
A fire at a poultry slaughterhouse in Northeastern China, possibly the worst ever of its kind, has killed over 100 workers. State media is confirming 119 dead and over 50 injured from the fire that started early Monday morning.
According to state-run Xinhua News Agency, some 300 employees where in the building when the fire broke out at around 6:00 AM at the Jilin Baoyuanfeng Poultry Company. Survivors have spoken to local media, saying that they heard an explosion followed by smoke that filled the air. One survivor, Wang Fenya, a female factory worker at the company, said that shortly arriving at her work station, “someone shouted ‘run away!’”
“Suddenly, the lights inside went out and the plant got quite dark. When I finally ran out and looked back at the plant, I saw high flames,” Wang recalled to Xinhua. According to the report escaping the inferno was difficult because of narrow and cramped exit routes. Some reports also said that some exits were locked from the outside as well.
While it is unclear if the factory was equipped with appropriate fire safety and emergency measures, the China Labour Bulletin says that dangerous standards for emergency exits in factories is common in China. “The lack of proper fire safey equipment, exits and training for workers are all too common place in China’s factories,” the labor rights group wrote. The group is also calling the Jilin factory fire “one of [the] worst, if not the worst, factory fires in China in living memory,” based on fatalities. The last factory incident with a comparable death toll happened at a toy factory in Shenzhen in 1993, killing 87 migrant workers.
On Chinese social media, particularly the nation’s Twitter-like social media platform, Weibo, an outpour of condolences and sympathies for victims of the explosion, along with photos from bystanders and local media, were trending. In addition, many are ssking who may be responsible for the many lives lost, calling for an explanation as to why doors were locked, adding that the company’s president, Jia Yushan, is responsible for the tragedy.
"Why haven’t we seen a resignation yet?” one person on Weibo commented, agreeing that someone with the company should be held accountable.
"A black-hearted boss, and those who profit are only concerned about economic interests, not the workers’ life and death. What about basic emergency equipment, basic emergency lighting?” another user lamented in a post.
Another popular post on Weibo said that safety concerns in the work place should be of utmost importance especially considering today’s fire, as well as a two other recent incidents in Northeast China. Last Friday, a fire ripped through a grain farm in Heilongjiang, affecting 78 barns and over 47,000 tons of grain. Yesterday, two workers were seriously injured while two others are still missing after an explosion at an oil refinery in Dalian, another city in northeastern China.
"Nothing can be more important than human life. Where are the necessary government departments? Clearly something is wrong here,” the user said.
By Tom Philips, Shanghai
3 June 2013
On Monday lunchtime rescue workers and fire fighters were reportedly still battling to control a blaze that started at 6.06am in Dehui city in the province of Jilin.
Up to 350 workers were in the building when the fire broke out and no more than 100 had managed to escape, according to reports, suggesting the death toll could rise further.
“This is one of worst, if not the worst, factory fires in China in living memory,” China Labour Bulletin, a Hong Kong-based workers’ rights group, said in a statement.
The fire broke out on Monday morning at a slaughterhouse controlled by the Jilin Baoyuan Poultry Company which employees around 1,200 people.
An electrical spark had triggered the fire, which was still raging at noon on Monday, according to state-run CCTV.
Witnesses began recounting scenes of panic as desperate workers stampeded to escape the flames.
“The fire took only 3 minutes to burn through the entire workshop and less than 30 workers managed to escape,” one unnamed witness told the Southern Metropolis newspaper.
Among at least 54 wounded workers was 44-year-old Wang Fengya who said she had managed to escape the inferno but sustained burns to her face.
“Someone shouted ‘Run away!’ and we quickly ran to the exit, which is about 40 metres away from my seat,” she told Xinhua. “Suddenly, the lights inside went out and the plant got quite dark.”
“When I finally ran out and looked back at the plant, I saw high flames," she added.
Other survivors told Xinhua they had “heard a sudden bang and then witnessed dark smoke.” A photograph posted on Weibo, a Chinese micro-blogging site, showed thick black smoke billowing from a white and blue warehouse.
China Radio International reported that “the exact number of those trapped in the plant has not yet been confirmed” and said “rescue work is ongoing”. Calls to the local fire and police stations went unanswered on Monday afternoon.
Many of those admitted to a local hospital were suffering from respiratory problems after inhaling “ammonia or other poisonous gases”, China News Service reported.
The weeping family members of some victims had assembled at the scene of the disaster and were demanding an immediate government investigation, Chinese media reported.
Early reports suggested that nearly all of the slaughterhouse’s doors had been locked at the time of the fire, leaving dozens trapped inside.
China Labour Bulletin said “the lack of proper fire safety equipment, exits and training for workers are all too commonplace in China’s factories.