Machine Operator Not to Blame, Company and Union Say

Representatives of a union and the garment factory where an exploding steam generator killed one worker and injured seven others last week said on Wednesday that the machine operator was not to blame, contradicting claims by a government official earlier this week.

A representative of Zhen Tai Garment said on Wednesday that it was in the process of renewing the generator’s government-issued permit and operator license at the time of the explosion.

Ky Srey Mao, a garment factory worker injured by an exploding steam generator, lays in a bed at Preah Kossamak Hospital in Phnom Penh on Wednesday. (Siv Channa/The Cambodia Daily)

While a spokesman for the Industry and Handicrafts Ministry said on Monday that operator Ou Vun had been careless by adding too much wood to the fire-powered generator to allow for a longer lunch break, Zhen Tai’s representative said Mr. Vun could not have overloaded the machine.

“We have not given too much wood to the operator,” said Chen JunMing, human resources and corporate social responsibility manager for J.D. United Manufacturing, Zhen Tai’s parent company.

Mr. Vun, who was detained by police last Wednesday and later released after questioning without being charged, had worked with the company since June 2013, when the generator was installed, and would be reinstated to his position if the company decided to get a new wood-fired generator, Mr. Chen said. The factory was currently using an electric-powered generator, he added.

Khem Sophan, head of the Khmer Union Federation of Workers Spirit branch at the factory, said Mr. Vun had not been negligent and had even warned management a couple of months ago that the machine was old and looked like it was bulging and ready to burst.

“The steam generator operator told the company about it being convex, that it almost exploded, but the company let the factory mechanic who had no skill fix it,” Mr. Sophan said.

“Even though it was fixed, sooner or later it exploded because they did not replace it with a new one.”

Mr. Chen of J.D. United Manufacturing said on Wednesday he was not aware of the operator reporting any problems about the generator.

Company records—showing daily status reports on the functioning of the generator’s pressure meter, security alarm, safety light, water valve, steam valve and other parts conducted every two hours during the workday—reveal that the machine had been under repair for nine days last month.

Mr. Chen said that, pending conclusions of an investigation by the company and the government, he was unsure whether the repairs could be related to the explosion.

“I’m not yet clear about what they were repairing,” he said. “I’m not an expert about that.”

The generator was last inspected by the Industry Ministry in February last year, according to Better Factories Cambodia, an International Labor Organization monitoring program.

Safety logs for this month, which were left near the generator, were destroyed last Wednesday when the machine exploded, Mr. Chen said.

Ouch Mony, director of the Industry Ministry’s science, technical and technology department, said that while his department had told the factory to renew its permit before it had expired, it was not the responsibility of the ministry to alert companies.

“In general, it is the duty of all factories who have to come, like paying taxes. They have to come on the due date,” Mr. Mony said. “But our side of officials called to inform, but [Zhen Tai] told us they were busy and they did not come.”

Mr. Chen said the company was in the process of filing its paperwork when the wood-fired generator exploded.

“They only blame the factory, why they have not renewed,” Mr. Chen said. “We have the evidence from our contact together [with the ministry] and then we send the certificate to them to request them to help us to renew.”

The company compensated five workers with minor injuries with $800, two more seriously injured workers with $2,000 and $5,000, and the family of the dead worker with $12,000, Mr. Chen said. The factory would continue paying injured workers’ salaries while they were in the hospital, he added.

At Preah Kossamak Hospital on Tuesday, the worker who was compensated with $5,000, Ky Srey Mao, said she was still in a lot of pain after being struck by hot metal parts of the exploding generator last week.

“When it hit the ground, pieces of the boiler broke apart and hit me and I fell into a table,” the 23-year-old said. “A piece of the boiler hit my thigh and I fell into a [concrete] table. When I fell into the table, I hit my head.”

“I looked back and I saw the victim,” she said, referring to 45-year-old worker Kul Samorn, who was killed when the machine partially landed on her and cut open her stomach. “When I saw the victim’s intestines, I was very scared and I cried.”

Ms. Srey Mao, who is four months pregnant, underwent surgery on her thigh on Friday, and also suffered a dislocated kneecap, laceration on her head and burns on her left hand.

“My body feels hot from the inside right now,” she said. “I’m afraid that when I go back to work another accident will happen.”

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