Shoe factory fire in Zhejiang kills at least 16 workers

15 January 2014

In the latest devastating workplace fire to hit China, at least 16 workers were killed when a blaze broke out on the afternoon of 14 January at a shoe factory in the eastern coastal city of Wenling, China’s official media reported.

Fire-fighters rescued 20 people, five of whom were badly injured. Two of the owners and one manager at Taizhou Dadong Shoes were subsequently taken into custody by the local police pending an investigation into the cause of the fire.

The blaze follows a fire at a wholesale market in Shenzhen in December, which also killed 16 people including three young children, and a roof collapse at an illegally constructed storeroom in the northern province of Hebei, which killed ten people.

Thus far there is little evidence that any improvements have been made to workplace safety standards in China since the worst factory fire in living memory killed 121 workers at a poultry plant in Jilin in June 2013. Indeed, teams dispatched by the State Administration of Work Safety (SAWS) to assess safety standards at factories across the country in the wake of the Jilin fire concluded that: “Problems are striking, and everywhere, and could cause serious accidents if they are not properly addressed.”

SAWS inspection teams arrived at enterprises unannounced and “found a lot of problems - pipelines and wires were substandard, switches were not explosion-proof, and many valves had been rusted and could not be switched on or off,” SAWS spokesman Huang Yi said.

Huang was particularly critical of the lax enforcement of safety standards by local government officials and stressed that whenever SAWS investigated an accident it always looked into the possibility of corruption and collusion with local government officials.

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