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Poultry plant fire in China raises industrial safety concerns

June 03, 2013|By Alexandra Zavis

A fire at a poultry plant in northeastern China that claimed at least 119 lives Monday is one of a string of Asian disasters that have spotlighted poor industrial safety standards.

The most shocking example took place just over a month ago, when a garment factory complex collapsed on the outskirts of the Bangladesh capital, Dhaka, killing at least 1,127 people. An engineer had warned that the Rana Plaza building was unsafe, but garment workers who expressed fear about entering the building were ordered back to work by their employers.

Deadly industrial accidents have accompanied China’s rapid industrial growth in recent decades, despite government efforts to improve safety standards.

PHOTOS: Fire kills more than 100 at China poultry plant

Monday’s factory fire was one of the worst in China in living memory, eclipsing the toll from a 1993 blaze at a toy factory in the southern city of Shenzhen that killed 87 workers, most of them young women, according to the Hong Kong-based advocacy group China Labor Bulletin.

Such tolls are more typical of accidents at China’s coal mines, the group said. Last month, a coal mine explosion in China's southwest Sichuan province killed 28 people, state media reports said.  A 2008 landslide triggered by the collapse of an illegal mining dump engulfed a village in northern China, claiming more than 250 lives.

Government efforts to tighten safety regulations appear to have yielded some results. More than 1,300 people died in mining accidents last year, down more than 30% from the previous year, according to official figures. Overall, the number of deaths from workplace accidents fell nearly 5%.

Still, critics say deadly accidents remain all too common, with local officials often more concerned about boosting productivity than enforcing safety standards.

Authorities said Monday’s fire, in Jilin province's Mishazi township, was caused by leakage in tanks of ammonia, which is used in the poultry industry as a coolant. Panicked workers were unable to escape because most of the exits were locked or blocked, survivors told Chinese state media.

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Twitter: @alexzavis | alexandra.zavis@latimes.com

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