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Keep Workers Safe or Production High? Foxconn reopens after fatal dust explosion.

Posted on June 6, 2011

The Foxconn’s polishing workshop (Apple products)  in China  has reopened and is back in full production, barely 2 weeks after a dust explosion that killed three and injured 15. It was reported that the quick reopening is due to fear that a prolonged shutdown could affect supplies of a range of electronics, from cell phones to television sets. In this economy, the ability to produce is indeed critical. But what about worker safety? While initial research says the blast was due to an explosion of aluminum dust (combustible dust) in a ventilation vent, Apple is conducting a separate investigation that is ongoing. Unfortunately, China’s workers do no have the basic rights our U.S. workforce has, furnished and enforced under OSHA’s General Duty Clause, which states “Each employer shall furnish to each of his employees employment and a place of employment which are free from recognized hazards that are causing or are likely to cause death or serious physical harm to his employees.”

A  recent report by a non-profit advocacygroup examined work conditions at the Foxconn facility prior to the blast (interestingly, the facility saw a spike in suicide last summer…). The report describes extremely poor health conditions at the factory, with sick leave difficult to obtain. Chemicals used in assembly are often harmful, but workers are not told about the possible dangers. In another department at the factory, aluminum dust fills the air, covering their hands, clothes, and faces.

“I’m breathing in dust at Foxconn just like a vacuum cleaner. My nostrils are totally black everyday,” one worker reported.

According to Foxconn, “While the investigation into the tragic explosion that took place at our facility in Chengdu is ongoing, we have addressed the preliminary finding, that the accident was likely due to an explosion of aluminum dust in a ventilation duct, by putting in place improvements in workshop ventilation, a total revamping of the policies and practices related to the disposal of that dust, and through the application of new technologies that will further enhance the safety in these workshops.”

But according to the above mentioned report, it sounds like dust is just one of many problems the factory needs to address. Let’s hope their efforts are enough to prevent another deadly accident.  And be an example for all manufacturing facilities, worldwide, that we can’t turn a blind eye to worker safety in order to keep up production. After all, where would production be if you had no workers?