Safety questioned as China plant blast dead reach 69

Safety questioned as China plant blast dead reach 69
Victims gather outside the gate of a factory after an explosion in Kunshan

SHANGHAI - The death toll from an explosion at a Taiwan-invested car parts factory in China reached 69 on Sunday, state media said, as a labour rights group cast doubt on its safety measures.

The blast on Saturday in a wheel hub polishing workshop at the Zhongrong Metal Products Co. in Kunshan, near Shanghai, also left nearly 200 injured, state television said, many with severe burns.

The force of the explosion caused metal siding on the factory building to peel back, AFP journalists saw, while state television showed wheel hubs sitting amid broken machinery.

Kunshan's mayor Lu Jun on Saturday classified the incident as a "severe" industrial accident, which a preliminary investigation showed it was caused by the ignition of powder or dust from the production process.

Authorities have detained two company officials, the state-run Xinhua news agency said, but did not name them.

The firm makes parts for car companies, including US giant General Motors (GM).

China has a dismal industrial safety record as some owners evade regulations to save money and pay off corrupt officials to look the other way.

US-based China Labor Watch, a workers' rights group, said proper measures could have prevented the accident.

"Safety measures like ventilation systems should have prevented such accumulation of dust particles. This tragedy is a result of lax safety standards in the workplace," it said in a statement.

Dust suspended in the air in the right concentration can cause explosions, according to safety experts, with even materials that do not normally burn in larger pieces becoming explosive in certain conditions.

Kunshan, in the eastern province of Jiangsu and known as a centre for Taiwanese investment in China, was unable to handle the number of injured, with more than 130 of them sent to hospitals in surrounding areas including Shanghai.

A doctor treating the injured said this type of burn, caused by an explosion, presented special challenges to treat.

"We have to think about infection," the doctor from Shanghai's Ruijin Hospital told state television.

The blast tore the clothes off workers while the burns turned their skin grey or black, according to witnesses.

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