Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Factory collapse injures four



Factory collapse injures four

A security guard inspects damage at  Nishiku Enterprise’s garment factory in Takeo province yesterday morning
A security guard inspects damage at Nishiku Enterprise’s garment factory in Takeo province yesterday morning. Vireak Mai

Factory collapse injures four

Four employees suffered back and leg injuries after part of the floor collapsed at a Takeo province garment factory yesterday morning.

Authorities blamed the incident – the latest to raise questions about building safety in Cambodia’s biggest export industry – on substandard construction.

Some 800 workers fled from Building B of the Nishiku Enterprise factory at about 9:30am after part of the ground floor near the entrance caved in, pinning several workers under their sewing machines and causing minor injuries, witnesses said.

“According to a primary investigation, it was caused by substandard construction,” said Som Hor, deputy chief of a military police unit in Bati district’s Putsar commune. “We have asked investigating officers to check the construction again, because the company did not follow the blueprints they submitted.”

A portion of the floor, below eight work stations, collapsed due to a lack of reinforcement in its foundation. It sat atop a 40-by-20-metre reservoir dug underneath and gave way under the factory’s weight, said Chan Monika director of Nishiku’s human resources.

While about 150 people stood outside Nishiku’s large gates after workers left the factory, the floor of the building slanted about 1 metre underground, with portions of the ceiling downed, wires and hunks of insulation hanging from above.

Recounting the incident two hours later, Khat Sorya said she fell down after the floor collapsed while she was retrieving a pair of scissors for a co-worker.

“I heard a sound, and I ran back, but the concrete I was standing on collapsed and I fell with machines,” Sorya said. “Luckily I was not injured; I tried to crawl out of the debris.”

At Bati Referral Hospital, four injured women and two who fainted in shock rested on wood-framed beds with no mattresses set up outside the hospital.

Oeur Pich, whose left leg was injured, said that when the floor fell, she first struggled to climb up amid dust and rubble, but then tried to help other workers stuck under machines. The industrial appliances were too heavy for her to lift on her own, so she shouted until other workers came back to help.

“As soon as I heard a sound, the machines and workers collapsed [with the floor]; I am extremely shocked, but luckily nobody was killed,” she said. “I will continue to work at [Nishiku] – even though I am afraid – because I have no choice.”

Nishiku supplies to UK-based New Look, the Community Legal Education Center (CLEC) said. It also supplies to H&M, according to the Coalition of Cambodia Apparel Worker Democratic Union (C.CAWDU).

An H&M spokeswoman said yesterday that “local staff in Cambodia is currently investigating this case, and we cannot comment further at this point”. New Look did not respond to an email.

The collapse shows that more attention must be paid to building safety at garment factories, Dave Welsh, country director of labour rights group Solidarity Center, said at the hospital.

“It just speaks to the fact that structural integrity should be a priority,” he said.

Responsibility for inspections falls on the Ministry of Labour, said Moen Tola, head of the labour program at CLEC. Monthly safety inspections, by law, are supposed to be carried out.

In the wake of the Wing Star Shoes factory collapse that killed two workers, including a 13-year-old girl, in Kampong Speu in May last year, Minister of Labour Ith Sam Heng, then the social affairs minister, promised swift action.

“We will create an inspection committee to investigate all the factories in this country,” he said.

But Labour Ministry spokesman Heng Sour last night said that following the Wing Star collapse, a new committee had instead been set up by the Ministry of Land Management, Urban Planning and Construction to carry out surprise inspections on building conditions and fire safety.

A man takes photographs of the collapsed floor at Nishiku Enterprise’s garment factory in Takeo province
A man takes photographs of the collapsed floor at Nishiku Enterprise’s garment factory in Takeo province yesterday morning. Vireak Mai

Sun Lyhov of C.CAWDU, however, said the government has little control over what is being built. “They have no control over the quality of buildings,” Lyhov said. The union is considering a lawsuit against the factory, he added, because yesterday’s incident is not the factory’s first infraction.

In separate incidents in the garment sector since the Wing Star collapse, workers have been injured when a walkway collapsed into a pond at a factory in the capital’s Meanchey district, and authorities have discovered an entire storey built at a factory without permission.

Yesterday’s collapse coincided with the release of the International Labour Organization’s Better Factories Cambodia (BFC) program’s third transparency report.

The report documents factories’ compliance with “critical issues” relating to workers’ rights, health and safety.

Nishiku, previously called Asia Dragon Garment, is listed as compliant with all 20 applicable critical issues.

But Jill Tucker, BFC chief technical adviser, said that structural assessments were not something the group was capable of doing.

“In order to do a real structural assessment you need qualified structural engineers; we do not have any on staff,” she said. “I don’t think that we will ever become engineers; it’s not our role. But we need to make sure that others are looking into this.”

Tucker said the ILO invited a team of experts from Filipino company ECCI on a 10-day trip to Cambodia in June to assess the building and fire safety of a “sample” of factories.

“They could only go to 10 factories out of 500 … [so] they tried to get coverage of different types of factories,” she said, adding that the experts met with representatives of GMAC, the Labour Ministry and the Land Management, Urban Planning and Construction Ministry.

Based on ECCI’s findings, which BFC received yesterday, the group would be “making recommendations”, Tucker said.

Nishiku was not one of the factories selected for assessment.

In the future, Tucker added, the structural integrity of factories is “definitely an issue we need to address … [but] it is not something we can do alone.”

According to the transparency report, other “critical issues” are lessening since the program began publicly shaming factories.

In its report, the BFC noted a “19 per cent improvement in the requirement to hold regular evacuation drills” and an “8 per cent improvement in the requirement to ensure that workers are free from discrimination” since it first began naming problem factories last year.

Out of the 13 factories originally included in the “low compliance” list, two have gotten their act together in recent months, the report says.

“One-fourth of the 95 factories added to the Critical Issues list in this report made improvements … in anticipation of their inclusion”, it says. “The total number of Critical Issues violations in this group of factories fell from 109 to 75 between July and September.”

ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY ALICE CUDDY

MOST VIEWED

  • Cambodia on the verge of national tragedy, WHO warns

    The World Health Organisation (WHO) in Cambodia warned that the country had reached another critical point amid a sudden, huge surge in community transmission cases and deaths. “We stand on the brink of a national tragedy because of Covid-19. Despite our best efforts, we are

  • Phnom Penh curfew starts today

    A two-week curfew from 8pm to 5am starts today in Phnom Penh, a day after a sub-decree detailing administrative measures to contain Covid-19 was issued by Prime Minister Hun Sen. “Travelling in Phnom Penh is temporally banned between 8pm and 5am,” said Phnom Penh governor

  • Vaccination open to foreigners in Cambodia

    The Ministry of Health on April 8 issued an announcement on Covid-19 vaccination for foreigners residing and working in Cambodia, directing the Ministry of Labour and Vocational Training and local authorities to register them. Health minister Mam Bun Heng, who is also head of the inter-ministerial

  • Cambodia gears up for muted New Year festival

    The recent curfew and restrictions imposed in the capital and other Covid-19 hotspots were intended to break the chain of transmission, Ministry of Health spokeswoman Or Vandine said as municipal and provincial authorities issued new directives banning certain activities during the upcoming Khmer New Year

  • Culture ministry: Take Tuol Sleng photos down, or else

    The Ministry of Culture and Fine Arts has told Irish photographer Matt Loughrey to take down the photos of Khmer Rouge victims at Tuol Sleng Genocidal Museum which he allegedly colourised and altered to show them smiling. The ministry said Loughrey's work is unacceptable, affecting

  • Covid-19 vaccination now obligatory

    Prime Minister Hun Sen on April 11 issued a sub-decree making Covid-19 vaccination compulsory for individuals unless they have a medical certificate proving they have pre-existing health conditions that prevent them from doing so. «This applies to all members of the armed forces and civil servants