A wood-fired boiler exploded at a Chinese-owned garment factory that supplies Levi’s brand trousers, hurtling through the air and crashing into a group of workers, killing one and wounding seven others in the capital’s Sen Sok district just before noon yesterday.
A Ministry of Labour statement said the explosion occurred at 11:40am, and that the body of the deceased – identified as Kor Samon, 48 – was being returned to her hometown in Svay Rieng province, with the National Social Security Fund (NSSF) to ensure compensation is paid.
“They were almost done having lunch and were walking back to the building to continue working, but unluckily, the machine exploded and flew with hot shrapnel to where the workers have lunch,” said Kem Sokpet, a worker and representative for the Khmer Union Federation of Workers Spirit.
The factory, operated by Zhen Tai Garment (Cambodia) Co Ltd in Phnom Penh Thmey commune, employs nearly 2,000 workers.
According to Sokpet, the boiler – which was located about 100 metres from where it landed – was about three to four years old and supplied the steam for the pressing of clothes as part of the production process.
District police chief Mak Hong said that authorities were still investigating the cause of the explosion.
By law, the NSSF must pay $1,000 to the deceased worker’s family and cover funeral costs. The fund must also cover medical expenses for those injured, according to William Conklin, country director for the Solidarity Centre, who noted that the compensation process can take up to three months.
“Lost benefits for workers who get discharged from the hospital but have a recovery time is also a slow process,” he added.
Security guard Ty Sophon, 45, the husband of Samon, said he was informed of his wife’s death by a phone call from one of her friends. “I have no feeling. I was so shocked to hear that. I almost didn’t believe it happened. When I saw my wife’s body, I believed it. She died from a serious injury to her head from the machine,” he said.
The most seriously injured survivor in the blast was 23-year-old Khy Srey Moa, who sustained burns and lacerations to her back and leg. Four months pregnant, she was at a loss for words. In an interview at her bedside in Preah Kossamak Hospital, her husband Yen Byn Ly, 26, said, “We do not know yet how it will affect my baby ... I am very sad for my wife and baby.”
Currently, the loss of an unborn child, and compensation for trauma resulting from it, is “not really developed” under the law, but could be at the NSSF’s discretion, according to Conklin.
Reached for comment, factory representative Li Xiao Ling said she was “at the police station”, before hanging up on a reporter and ignoring subsequent calls and emails.
Zhen Tai is a member of Better Factories Cambodia (BFC), an oversight program run by the International Labour Organization. BFC’s program manager, Esther Germans, said in an email last night that machine safety is “the responsibility of a factory”.
“They should have the systems in place to make sure that it is well maintained, inspected and well operated,” she said. However, she wrote, “we cannot draw any conclusions” as the investigation into the incident is ongoing. BFC’s last inspection of Zhen Tai was in 2015.
Zhen Tai was previously implicated in two instances of mass fainting among staff in August 2011, which prompted ministerial visits, though officials at the time ruled that conditions there weren’t to blame.
While the technical specifications of the boiler remain unknown, Conklin said that “if it’s a non-regulation type of device then there’s a real big gap in the inspection system”.
Levi’s suppliers must abide by the company’s terms of engagement, which include oversight for machine safety. In a statement to The Post, Levi Strauss & Co. said it has started an investigation into the incident, adding, “Levi Strauss & Co. remains committed to worker safety and extends our sympathy to those workers and their families who were affected by the explosion.”
Additional reporting by Jovina Chua