21 August 2019
Workers, many of them suffering from severe burns, gather outside the factory after the explosion on Saturday. Photo: AFP
Workers, many of them suffering from severe burns, gather outside the factory after the explosion on Saturday. Photo: AFP

Dust, overwork blamed for deadly Kunshan factory blast

Excessive dust could have caused the explosion that killed at least 71 workers at a Chinese auto-parts factory in Kunshan, in eastern China’s Jiangsu province, over the weekend, the Wall Street Journal reported.

Local authorities detained two executives at Kunshan Zhongrong Metal Production Co., which owns the factory the supply parts for vehicles made by General Motors Co. and other manufacturers. Work at the plant has been suspended.

At least 186 people were injured in the blast at a polishing workshop at the plant, Xinhua News Agency reported.

The factory was known for high levels of dust and frequent overtime work, according to the newspaper, citing current and former workers at the plant. They said the factory was often under pressure to meet quotas for delivery to its clients.

According to its website, Zhongrong Metal Production is a subcontractor to Citic Dicastal Wheel Manufacturing Co., a Hebei-based maker of car wheels. Zhongrong’s core business is electroplating aluminum-alloy wheel hubs, and it supplies GM and other after-market service companies in the United Sttes, according to the website.

GM said it didn’t have a direct relationship with Zhongrong, but used parts processed by Zhongrong through the company’s relationship with Dicastal.

Workers said dust was pervasive at the Zhongrong factory. “It was like a sauna room, and dust everywhere from the ground to the air. Nobody told us how to deal with the hazards of dust,” the newspaper quoted a former polishing worker at the plant as saying.

“They issued mouth muffles to us to fend against dust,” another worker said. “But my mouth muffle could be fully covered by dust within three hours there.”

Combustible dust is a widely known industrial hazard that has led to deaths at factories around the world, including in China. A small fire reportedly broke out in the same polishing workshop for months ago.

The workers said they worked at least 12 hours a day at the factory, and claim to have no vacations.

Despite the safety issues, the factory still managed to hire enough migrant workers to operate the factory, as it offered higher pay than most of the other electronics plants in the province.

“Most of us know it’s a dangerous job. But we need the money to support the family,” another worker told the newspaper. He said he could earn 7,000 yuan to 8,000 yuan (US$1,100-1,300) a month after tax.

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