Jilin Slaughterhouse Fire Raises Safety Concerns

The death toll from a fire at a Jilin slaughterhouse on Monday has risen to at least 120, prompting the detention of a senior official at the plant’s operator, anger on the part of bereaved relatives, and a call from the province’s Party secretary for order to be “resolutely” maintained. From the AFP:

Zhao Zhenchun, who lost both his wife and his sister in the , said human error was to blame for the death toll. “I don’t think was being 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.

[…] A senior official at the Baoyuanfeng poultry processing firm was detained. His role in the firm was not disclosed.

[…] Wang Rulin, party secretary of , has said the government will assign a “working team” to the family of each victim and ordered officials to “resolutely prevent major mass incidents”, according to a statement on the Changchun government website, using a euphemism for social unrest.

He also vowed to strengthen control over the Internet to “resolutely prevent malicious exaggeration, rumours spreading and firmly prevent the misleading of public opinions and the undermining of stability”, the statement said. [Source]

The BBC’s Celia Hatton reported that, although the government says workplace fatalities have fallen by nearly 30% over the last five years, enforcement of safety regulations often remains lax:

Experts say the incident in Jilin highlights the lack of fire prevention equipment or fire safety training available to Chinese .

“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. [Source]

At The New Yorker, Evan Osnos described netizens’ suspicions of potential corruption behind the scenes of workplace accidents:

In China these days, a fire is rarely accepted as just a fire. Even as the deaths were being counted, Chinese were openly discussing , safety standards, and the government’s likely response. The reflexive reaction by Chinese citizens is to ask which of several common rackets may have played a role. This was the third major workplace accident in northeast China in a week: an oil-tank explosion on Sunday killed two people and left two others missing, and a fire on Friday raged through a storage center that belonged to the China Grain Reserves Corporation; nobody was hurt, but online, people instantly suspected arson. Was it an attempt to destroy evidence before the arrival of a government anti- inspection team, they asked? The speculation became so rampant that news agencies reported, “Media Says That the Fire In the China Grain Reserves Corporation Has Nothing To Do With the Arrival Of the Central Inspection Group.”

[…] Or, perhaps, was a bribe paid to the safety inspector, to allow exits to remain locked as a theft-prevention measure? When a shopping center in Henan burned in 2000, the fire killed three hundred and nine people, and the building was found to have failed fire-prevention checks since 1997. [Source]