Negligence by both company management, supervisory officials to blame for fire at poultry plant in China that killed 120 people, nation's top work safety official says

, June 7, 2013 () – China's top work safety official blamed negligence both by company management and supervisory officials for the fire at a poultry plant that killed 120 people.

The fire last Monday at the poultry processing plant in Dehui city in northeast China's Jilin province, operated by Jilin Baoyuanfeng Poultry Co., also injured 77 people, making it one of China's deadliest industrial accidents.

Speaking to investigators in the provincial capital of Changchun, Yang Dongliang, director of the State Administration of Work Safety who is leading the investigation, said, "The company must not shirk its responsibility to maintain safety, nor can the government shirk its management and supervisory responsibilities," the official Xinhua News Agency reported.

Yang said a preliminary probe showed work safety management at the company was a "total mess."

He said the company failed to implement an accountability system for workplace safety and remove work safety hazards. He said the company also failed to conduct safety drills and provide safety awareness education to employees, the report said.

Xinhua said the investigation indicated evacuation efforts were hampered by the blocking of emergency exits.

"The company's management of employees was chaotic. No training, no drills. Many people died near the gate," Yang said. "It's too early to say for certain whether the emergency exits were locked or not. But one thing is for sure: they could not be opened."

Yang said investigation also showed that local governments and relevant authorities failed to fulfill their supervisory responsibilities.

Yang asked his work team to look into the exact cause of the accident and hold those responsible accountable.

An explosion of pressurized ammonia, used in the cooling systems at the plant, was believed to have sparked the fire, which became intense and spread quickly. More than 300 workers were in the plant at the time of the fire.

Reports said it took some 500 firefighters about 6 hours to put out the blaze. At least about 100 workers managed to escape.

The company employs about 1,200 employees and has annual output of 67,000 tons of chicken products.

Local police already have detained the company's board chairman and its general manager. Yang said the company's assets have been frozen and all its licenses revoked.

Yang has also called for safety checks in multiple industries across the country, including the dangerous mining, transportation and chemical manufacturing sectors, Xinhua said.

Earlier, China's State Council or the Cabinet, responding to the fire incident, announced a national overhaul of workplace safety rules, warning an "iron hand" would be used against violators. It also said government staff and the heads of production facilities would be punished if they don't perform their duties.

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