China molten steel tragedy highlights lax industry

BEIJING, April 24 Tue Apr 24, 2007 1:59am BST

BEIJING, April 24 (Reuters) - Lax safety measures, unsuitable equipment and "chaotic" conditions have been blamed for the deaths of 32 steel workers engulfed in molten metal, Chinese investigators announced, warning that such failings were common.

The men died at a steel plant in northeast China's Liaoning province last week when a huge ladle filled with molten metal sheared off a rail, spilling its 1,500 degrees Celsius (2,730 F) contents.

The accident sparked a public outcry and four company staff have been detained by police.

China's State Administration of Work Safety announced late on Monday that the Qinghe Special Steel Co. Ltd. had been using an ordinary hoist not designed for dangerous smelting work.

"Management at the worksite was chaotic," said the report issued on the Chinese government Web site (www.gov.cn).

"Equipment and materials inside the workshop were messy, the work space was narrow, and safety passages did not meet requirements."

At the time of the tragedy, the workers were swapping shifts and were holding a handover meeting just five metres from the fiery vacuum furnace, the report said.

The molten steel poured through windows and a door into the room where they were gathered.

The accident highlighted perilous conditions in the feverishly expanding metal sector, investigators said, as China struggles to meet demand for steel from its booming economy.

"Some firms cannot adapt to the demands of rapid expansion and ignore safety," the report said. "Safety inspection is not in place, leading to multiple accidents."

In 2006, 244 metal industry workers died in workplace accidents, a rise of 48 percent on a year earlier, investigators said.

"Work safety conditions in the metallurgy sector are extremely grim," the report said.