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Combustible Dust Decimates Chinese Tech Factory

Fires burn after combustible dust explosion in Chengdu, China

Aftermath of the Chengdu dust explosion. Photo: intomobile.com

Explosive Dust Kills Three in China

An explosion at a factory in the Chinese city of Chengdu has killed three workers and injured almost 20 others. This catastrophic explosion on May 20th, 2011 has been attributed to combustible dust accumulations, according to initial examinations by local authorities. The dust explosion led to the partial shutdown of the plant. Officials in Chengdu said the explosion had been caused by combustible dust in an air duct at a polishing workshop. Foxconn, a division of the Hon Hai Group of Taiwan, is the operator of the facility and occupies a golden position as one of Apple’s largest suppliers. The Chengdu facility appears to be a new factory and Foxconn boasts of hiring almost 100,000 new employees.

Warning Signs of a Dust Hazards

The Hong Kong-based labor watch-dog group called ‘Students and Scholars against Corporate Misbehavior’ had noted a problem with potentially combustible dust accumulations throughout the factory in a report on working conditions issued only 2 months ago. The group said workers at the Chengdu factory had complained this year that the ventilation of the polishing department to be wholly inadequate. Workers in this section of the factory are charged with polishing iPad cases and the polishing process produces copious amounts of explosive dust on a particulate scale near microscopic. Workers are forced to inhale this explosive dust even though they are wearing respirators. The particulate is so fine that when workers take off their cotton gloves, their hands are completely coated with this combustible dust. After the release of these findings, Foxconn issued a response; stating that it was unfortunate that S. A.C.O.M. was seeking to capitalize on insignificant findings.

Workers from the Foxconn plant show just how much explosive dust accumulates on their person during an average shift
Video by S.A.C.O.M., courtesy of Youtube.com

 

Corporate Damage Control

Apple issued a statement after the explosion, saying that they regretted the tragic accident and that the cause of the blast was under investigation. Foxconn has recently been expanding its operational reach all across China to keep up with production demands. Apple has a deep relationship with Foxconn; which has had to cope with several recent worker suicides. Labor rights groups believe the suicides were the result of harsh working conditions. Foxconn, however, insists employees are respected and are treated well. After the suicides, Foxconn took steps to mitigate internal stresses; hiring counselors and even installing nets on some buildings to prevent suicide attempts. Apple has praised Foxconn, saying the company has definitely saved lives.  Apple; which has an established and well documented code of conduct for international suppliers, audits plants annually, but has had to deal with continuing problems that propagate in China’s industrial sector.

Unforeseen Consequences of Combustible Dust Explosions

The subsequent shutdown has stirred fears of production/ supply interruptions for the latest iPad. IHS iSuppli, said that the explosion at the Chengdu facility “could result in the loss of production of 500,000 Apple iPad 2 tablet computers during the second quarter of this year.” IHS iSuppli said that while most of the iPad production was actually being completed in the city of Shenzhen, the concern is that the Shenzhen factory might not be able to compensate for the disruption in Chengdu.

The Necessity for Combustible Dust Mitigation Practices

The Chengdu incident brings to light the need for adequate combustible dust training procedures and effective housekeeping measures; such as employing dust cleaners, in order to eliminate the possibility of catastrophic combustible dust explosions in every sector of the manufacturing industry. HafcoVac Explosion Proof vacuums are compressed air powered and completely anti-static. No electricity means no possibility of ignition by proxy and can provide peace of mind for manufacturers and factory operators who truly care for the health, safety and well-being of their employees.

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