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November 18, 2010

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Safety chief says blaze due to poor supervision

ILLEGAL sub-contracting and poor government supervision were to blame for the deadly blaze that swept through a downtown apartment in Shanghai, China's leading work safety official said yesterday.

Two unlicensed welders, who have been detained, are alleged to have accidentally started the fire on Monday afternoon, which quickly spread, killing at least 53 people.

Police have detained eight people in connection with the fire, which also injured 70 people.

But blame also lies in illegal multiple sub-contracting and inadequate supervision of the renovation project, said Luo Lin, director of State Administration of Work Safety and the head of the investigation group.

"It was the illegal and irregular construction that caused this terrible accident, which should not have happened and could have been completely avoided," Luo said.

He promised to thoroughly investigate the causes of the fire and prosecute those responsible according to law.

The blaze is believed to have been started by sparks from welding tools before spreading to bamboo on the scaffolding and nylon nets shrouding the 28-storey building.

The contractor of the insulating project at the Jiaozhou Road apartment compounds is the state-owned Jing'an Construction Co and the sub-contractor, the Shanghai Jiayi Building Decoration Engineering Company, is its subsidiary.

But Jiayi sub-contracted detailed work to several smaller companies and construction teams, which is illegal, according to the investigation.

Huang Peixin, president of Jiayi, was taken by the police for questioning on Tuesday.

Meanwhile, the safety qualifications of Jiayi were also thrown into question as in 2006 Shanghai Urban Construction and Communication Commission reported that the company did not provide the conditions for safe construction.

And the annual safety quality examination was not carried out in 2008, according to the commission's website.

However, even in 2008 Jiayi still won several project bids in Jing'an District, including work on the staff cafeteria of the district's tax bureau.

Moreover, according to the district's government's website, the company won eight contracts on August 27 this year in the district, mostly school renovation projects.

Safety concerns about the Jiaozhou Road project had been reported by supervision party the Shanghai Jing'an Construction Supervision Co Ltd last month, according to the company's website.

The notice on October 28 said that the scaffolding plan had not been reported for examination and suggested improvements to safety plans.

Also, residents of the three buildings being renovated voiced safety concerns before the fire, according to Xie Zhiqiang, who lived on the 23rd floor of the destroyed building. "I always saw workers smoking while working on the scaffolding," Xie told Shanghai Daily yesterday.

Xie said that many residents did not agree with the work in the first place. "We don't know why they wanted to renovate our buildings," Xie said.


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