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False alarms trigger fainting

111209_04
Sok Sreylak, a 22-year-old garment worker, is carried to a hospital after fainting at the Sportex factory in Phnom Penh yesterday. About 100 employees fainted at the factory after an alarm went off.

Three false alarms at a garment factory triggered another mass fainting incident yesterday morning, sending 59 female staff, including one security guard, to hospitals and clinics, according to a statement from the Ministry of Labour.

The first alarm went off  about 7:40am in a sewing section, causing workers to rush out of the Sportex Industry factory in the capital’s Russei Keo district, garment-maker Shout Dara said.

She said a manager had instructed workers to return to the factory moments later, telling them there had been no fire.  Just after they had returned to their work stations, however, the alarm went off again.

Workers rushed out of the two-floor complex a second time, but returned to their work stations after managers ordered them to do so a second time, she said.

A few minutes after they returned, the alarm rang a third time and this triggered the fainting, Shout Dara said.

About 100 of the 1,400 employees at the Taiwanese-owned factory, which makes sportswear for Adidas, fainted, workers said. Fifty-nine were sent to hospitals and clinics, the statement from the labour ministry said.

Dr Chhum Chheng Kong, vice-director of Samdech Euv referral hospital, who treated many of women, said “lack of oxygen” was likely the reason for the fainting.

The statement from the Ministry of Labour attributed the fainting to alarm bells and a foul odour in the production hall.

Shout Dara said the fainting was caused by panic. “We were terrified, because we thought there was a fire somewhere in the factory after the alarm bell kept going off,” she said.  

Managers kept telling the staff there was nothing wrong and ordering them to return to their work stations, but the alarm kept going off, she said.

“The fear became overwhelming, and then I fainted,” Shout Dara said.

Cambodian Labor Union representative Ghun Bonarith said the fainting was the result of a technical error in the fire-alarm system, adding that she “immediately contacted the hospital for treatment” of the women who collapsed.

Doctor Pok Vanthat, the director of the ministry’s committee to prevent mass fainting incidents and workplace injuries, ordered the factory to fix its alarm bell system and ensure a safe environment for workers.

Factory management agreed with Pok Vanthat’s request to allow workers four days off with pay before resuming operations, the ministry statement said.

Cambodia’s garment and footwear industry has been hit by a series of mass fainting incidents at factories this year.

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