Power Plant Construction Accident in China's Jiangxi Leaves Dozens Dead

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jiangsu-accident-11252016.jpg Rescue workers in the Chinese province of Jiangxi search for crewmen missing after after a platform collapsed during the construction of a power plant cooling tower, Nov. 24, 2016.
Jiangsu Fire Department.

At least 67 people have died in the eastern Chinese province of Jiangxi after a platform collapsed during the construction of a power plant cooling tower in Fengcheng city.

Jiangxi Ganneng Co, which is building the plant, confirmed the toll of 67 dead in a statement to the Shenzhen stock exchange, adding that it is cooperating with authorities to investigate the cause of the accident.

An official who answered the phone at the Fengcheng municipal government offices on Thursday said local leaders are already at the scene of the accident.

"All of our personnel have gone to the the scene of the accident," the official said. "There has already been an online statement about developments, so you should use that ... We're not a press office."

Two workers were taken to hospital with injuries sustained in the accident, which took place shortly after 7.00 a.m. local time.
A doctor who answered the phone at the Fengcheng People's Hospital said they are currently treating several people for injuries in the accident.

"We had two come in with cranial injuries, and then three who came in around noon, who aren't too bad, with minor soft tissue injuries," the doctor said.

"In total we have had seven deaths of patients brought to this hospital; they died pretty much on arrival," he said. "The two with cranial injuries were admitted to hospital, while the ones with soft tissue injuries are still waiting outside the emergency room."

Chinese Premier Li Keqiang has ordered an investigation and called for those responsible to be held to account, official media reported.

"Strengthen supervision and preventive measures, prevent such a major accident from happening again," the China News Service quoted Li as saying.

Routine project

A source close to the accident said the nature of the project shouldn't have resulted in such an accident, as it was technically well within the abilities of those working on it.

"A cooling tower isn't one of those large-scale, dangerous projects," the source said. "It's structurally very
stable ... and shouldn't present too many problems in construction."

"The materials involved are pretty straightforward too, and the project didn't even count as a particularly large scale one, given that construction projects are getting bigger and bigger across China these days," he said.

"The only thing that I can think of is a problem with the management of the workforce, which means that somebody is responsible."

Former state prosecutor-turned-rights activist Shen Liangqing said state-owned enterprises in China are reluctant to invest in project safety, and workers have little power to say no to hazardous assignments.

"I saw quite a lot of these cases when I worked as a state prosecutor," Shen told RFA. "Back in the 1990s, I visited a power station over in Jiangxi, and the cooling tower was under construction."

"The cables holding up the construction crane had torn away, and later we found that many of the screw heads were very weak ... the crane-driver had received no specialist training whatsoever," Shen said.

He said work safety issues are rarely addressed because there are no independent labor organizations to hold employers to account.

"As we know, there are no [non-government] labor unions in China, and industrial safety is linked to the health and safety of the workforce, yet there is no protection for them," Shen said.

Spate of accidents

The Jiangxi provincial State Development and Reform Commission was unavailable for comment on Thursday.

China has been rocked in recent years by a series of large-scale industrial accidents, including two massive blasts that ripped through a hazardous chemicals warehouse in the northern port city of Tianjin on Aug. 12, 2015, killing more than 170 people and destroying residential buildings near the epicenter.

Almost a year later, at least 21 people were killed and five others injured, three seriously, after a steam pipe exploded at the Madian Ganshi Power Generation Co. in Hubei's Dangyang city.

Last month, a massive explosion in the northern Chinese province of Shaanxi left at least 14 people dead and around 150 injured, with officials blaming an illegal explosives factory.

In the wake of the Tianjin disaster, the ruling Chinese Communist Party launched a nationwide series of safety inspections.

But nearly 200 people died in chemical accidents around the country in the first eight months of this year alone, according to a report from the environmental group Greenpeace highlighting lax management across the world's largest chemicals industry.

Greenpeace warned in the report that many chemicals facilities are worryingly close to areas of high population density and to ecologically sensitive areas.

State Administration of Work Safety chief Yang Dongliang was removed from his post following the Tianjin explosions and later charged with corruption.

Reported by Qiao Long for RFA's Mandarin Service, and by Wong Siu-san and Sing Man for the Cantonese Service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.

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