Jun 05, 2013

    Protesters block traffic after deadly plant fire

    RELATIVES of workers killed when a fire engulfed a chicken-processing plant in rural north-eastern China blocked traffic and scuffled with police yesterday, demanding answers to one of China's worst industrial disasters in recent years.

    At least 120 people died and more than 70 were injured in the incident on Monday.

    People knelt in the middle of the road in Dehui, Jilin province, to stop cars, while a crowd of more than 100 protesters gathered around them. The police dispersed them after an hour.

    Mr Zhao Zhenchun, who lost his wife and his sister in the fire, said human error was to blame for the death toll.

    "Safety wasn't managed properly. This should never happen again. They paid the price with their blood. So many of these big disasters in China are caused by lax supervision," he said.

    The world's second-largest economy has a poor record on workplace safety. Fire exits in factories are often locked or blocked entirely to prevent workers from taking time off or from stealing things.

    The official Xinhua news agency said: "The rationale behind the locked doors boils down to efficiency. With the doors locked, workers cannot wander about freely and, therefore, can concentrate on work."

    Safety regulations are also skirted easily by bribing corrupt officials, and China has relatively few fire-safety inspectors.

    Mr Geoffrey Crothall, a Chinese-labour expert with advocacy group China Labour Bulletin, said: "Tragically, most of the inspections usually come after a disaster like this.

    "There're very little proactive or routine inspections of factories to make sure everybody's brought up to code, and that's because there are too many factories and too few inspectors."