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November 20, 2010

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Safety checks show failings

A series of inspections focusing on fire control and safety in workplaces was launched yesterday across the city's construction sites, residential compounds, schools, hospitals and other public buildings.

Despite the tragic example set by Monday's inferno, some construction sites were still found to have poor fire-safety standards. And some residential buildings, especially older ones, had potential fire risks, as the hallways were packed with obstacles, inspectors said.

The housing bureau said a team of 100 workers completed the first round of random checks at local residential compounds. There are about 10,800 housing complexes in Shanghai and the housing authorities' blanket inspection will continue for a week.

Meanwhile, all 4,600 construction sites of new buildings were ordered to pause for two hours yesterday morning to make safety checks. Inspectors from the city construction and transport authorities also paid spot checks.

Some sites still did not meet basic fire control requirements.

"I don't know how to use a fire extinguisher," said a worker on an office-building project on Shangzhong Road, Xuhui District, when randomly picked for questioning by an inspector yesterday morning.

The site downed tools for the temporary suspension at 9am as ordered by authorities and workers had just finished a "training lesson" to improve their fire-safety awareness when the inspectors arrived.

By training, the workers meant a speech delivered by a manager who read the notice issued by local authorities urging for better fire control efforts, as well as highlighting basic guidelines to prevent fires.

But the workers, who come from different parts of China, said their manager had spoken in such a heavy dialect and low voice that they "hardly heard a thing from his talk" before the "training" ended.

A major safety defect spotted at the construction site was that the workers had failed to place flammable materials at a distance as required by the work safety rules.

The site stored acetylene and oxygen containers in neighboring rooms. The safety rules require such materials be kept separately while the oxygen containers be away from each other at a minimum of 3 to 5 meters. The project's company, Ye Zhi Feng Construction, was served a warning notice to rectify the problem within 24 hours and to also improve the workers' training.

The 28-story building burnt on Monday was undergoing renovation to its exterior walls and was covered in scaffolding, safety nets and heat insulation materials, when a welding spark caused the whole building to go up in flames. The fire is so far being blamed on lax safety supervision and a mistake by welders.


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