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Glaring violations of safety standards found in Kentex factory after deadly fire

Seventy-two workers, many of whom were women, were burned to death and 20 more are still missing in the biggest factory fire that hit The Philippines—the fire that gutted the factory of Kentex Manufacturing Incorporated on 13 May 2015. The company, located along Tatalon Street in Barangay Ugong in Valenzuela City, manufactures rubber slippers for sale and distribution in various parts of The Philippines.

Labour Secretary Rosalinda Baldoz claimed that the factory passed an inspection on compliance with general labour standards and occupational health and safety standards that was conducted by the Department of Labour and Employment (DOLE) on September 2014. The Bureau of Fire Protection reportedly also gave the factory a fire safety inspection certification.

However, the fact-finding team which was composed of labour non-government organisations namely, the Centre for Trade Union and Human Rights, the Ecumenical Institute for Labour Education and Research, and the Institute for Occupational Health and Safety Development, and the national labour centre of Kilusang Mayo Uno, which visited the area on May 14, found glaring violations of standards pertaining to general labour conditions and to occupational health and safety. It is most likely that these violations caused the tragic and massive loss of lives in the recent fire.

These violations include:

p Mishandling of the chemical super seal, which is used as a rubber emulsifier. Survivors of the fire whom the Team interviewed said that the fire started on the ground floor of the two-storey building when the welding spatter from roll up door being repaired by an outside contractor reacted with the chemical that was unsafely placed on the factory’s floor and was not kept in a separate and safe stockroom.

This clearly violates Rule 1943.07 on storage of the Occupational Safety and Health Standards of 1989. The Rule provides that “(1) Significant quantities of commodities with fire hazards greater than ordinary combustible commodities shall be separated from the main bulk by fire walls.”

p Absence of proper labelling and awareness of the nature of the said chemical. Workers, including the welder who was fixing the gate of the factory compound, were not aware that the chemical is highly flammable as it was not properly labelled. Survivors also said that when smoke started to rise from the sacks of the chemical where the welding spatter fell, there were workers who poured water, which only caused the fire to become bigger. The fire was already huge when the workers attempted to put it off by using the fire extinguisher. After using the fire extinguisher, they were immediately engulfed by black smoke.

Absence of proper labelling violates Rule 1093.04 on Marking of Containers which requires “All containers with hazardous substances shall be properly labelled. No employer … shall accept any container of hazardous substances for use, handling or storage unless such containers are labelled.”

p Absence of proper smoke and fire alarm and apparent absence of fire and safety drill among the workers. Survivors also noted that even when the ground floor was already filled with smoke, workers in the assembly line and the office staff at the second floor still continued working. They said the fire spread so quickly that they were trapped inside and there was no other way for them to go out except through the main door. They also recounted that they heard no fire alarm. They also claimed that workers in the second floor of the building were trapped as it was impossible for them to go through the door with such a strong fire coming from the building entrance. 

Workers who had been working for years in Kentex have not experienced any fire and safety drill conducted by the management. When asked about the safety officer, workers interviewed did not know if there was one.

These are clear violations of Rules on alarm and fire drills. Rule 1948.01 states that “(1) All buildings having two or more stories in height shall be equipped with fire alarm system and signals of distinctive quality and pitch clearly audible to all persons inside the building.” Rule on 1948.03 requires that “(1) Fire-exit drills shall be conducted at least twice a year to maintain an orderly evacuation of buildings, unless the local fire department requires a higher frequency of fire drills.”

p Absence of fire exits. The factory compound had no fire exits and there were only two gates, one is for people and the other is for delivery trucks. The factory windows are covered with steel grills and chicken wire which could not easily be destroyed even during emergencies. Witnesses said that workers at the second floor attempted to break the windows open until they could no longer be seen from the outside. Workers who were able to escape the compound even had to climb the walls at the back as the gate for delivery trucks was locked. Out of the more than 70 workers on the second floor, only four workers escaped by squeezing themselves through an opening and jumping out of the building.

Rule 1943.03 requires “(1) At least two exits shall be provided in every floor and basement of every workplace capable of clearing the work area in five (5) minutes,” and “(6) On every floor, except the ground floor, one of the exits shall lead to an inside stairway or a smokeproof tower, while the other exits shall lead to inside stairways, smoke-proof towers or horizontal exits.”

With all these glaring and clear violations of the occupational health and safety standards (OHS) committed by Kentex Manufacturing, how did the Department of Labour and Employment release an OHS act compliance certificate to Kentex in year 2014? How can the lack of fire exits inside the workplace premise pass the evaluation conducted by DOLE inspectors? If these were pointed out during that inspection, corrective measures could have been implemented to ensure occupational safety of workers in Kentex and evade the loss of lives. 

The issuance of compliance certificate of DOLE to Kentex Manufacturing, an OHS standards violator, as complying to OHS standards, makes DOLE primarily accountable to the deaths of the 72 workers in this tragedy. DOLE failed its role in ensuring that workers are protected and their lives are safe and secure inside the workplace.

Let not the tragedies in Kentex, Novo Jeans, Eton, among others happen again and claim the lives of more workers. Thus, we demand:

p Hold the DOLE and the Bureau of Fire Protection who gave the company compliance certification accountable for the factory fire and deaths of almost a hundred workers and employees. Investigate the process of inspection for the issuance of compliance certification of Kentex. Impose criminal and administrative penalties or charges to key DOLE officials in-charge of the issuance of the compliance certificate.

p The imposition of criminal and administrative penalties on Veato Ang, owner of Kentex, and all owners of companies who have clearly violated occupational health and safety standards that resulted in the death of workers.

p Just compensation for the families of victims, proper benefits for workers who lost their jobs after the fire, and long-term support for orphaned children.

p Repeal of the Rules on Labour Laws Complicance system and immediate passage of House Bill 4635 or Workers’ SHIELD (Safety and Health Inspection and Employers’ Liability Decree) that will make violations of occupational health and safety standards both criminal and administrative offenses, while providing victims avenues for justice.

We call on the families of victims of Kentex accident to rise up and demand justice for their loved ones. We also call on the people to demand justice for Kentex workers and all other victims of occupational accidents

 

l Institute for Occupational    

Health and Safety Development

Centre for Trade Union and Human Rights

Ecumenical Institute for Labour Education and Research

 

Kilusang Mayo Uno

 

The issuance of compliance certificate of DOLE to Kentex Manufacturing, an OHS standards violator ... makes DOLE primarily accountable to the deaths of the 72 workers in this tragedy