Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Club fire a grim lesson in safety



Club fire a grim lesson in safety

A fire department official examines the burned-out interior of Siem Reap’s Hip Hop Club.
A fire department official examines the burned-out interior of Siem Reap’s Hip Hop Club. Thik Kaliyann

Club fire a grim lesson in safety

Poor installation of electrical wiring and lack of exits remain widespread problems

A blaze that gutted the popular Hip Hop Club on Tuesday night, killing five people and injuring two, was the fourth big blaze in as many years in Siem Reap. But many businesses in the city continue to operate without adequate safety measures due to a lack of national standards and an unwillingness to enforce their own, say industry experts.

“We always tell people what they need to do to prevent fires. But they just do not care,” said Meas Sang, director of the fire department in Siem Reap.

There are currently no regulations governing how enterprises in Cambodia manage fire risks: the main purpose of one law passed last year was to prevent fire companies from seeking bribes – leaving industries to police themselves.

The big international hotels are subject to internal corporate governance and conduct their own safety audits, according to the resident manager of Belmond La Résidence d’Angkor.

But smaller businesses can be harder to reach, even though they may welcome hundreds of customers every day.

Police have said that Tuesday’s fire was likely caused by faulty electrical wiring. Early suggestions that there was only one door have been refuted by the club’s owner, Lee Kong Vong, who said there were four.

The poor installation of wiring is one of the most widespread problems, according to British electrical engineer Alan Cordory. The former head of environment and safety for the British Royal Air Force was prompted to start Sparkies, a social enterprise that trains professional electricians in Siem Reap, after seeing so many violations of basic procedures in electrical wiring.

“One of the biggest problems is that an owner might put in the right system, but then they need to hire an electrician for something and then they come in and change everything because they don’t understand the nature of what they’re doing,” said Cordory.

When an electrical wire is badly joined, it can heat up and ignite what is behind it, he explained. Or else, when the wire is too small to carry the load required, the wire can heat up and burn out or overload the circuit breakers.

The CEO of Forte Insurance, Youk Chanroeuth Rith, said that, along with inadequate exits, poor electrical wiring is one of the most common problems risk assessors encounter. “Too often the wiring is inadequate for the load that is required of it,” he said.

Making a small building safer through the installation of smoke alarms, fire extinguishers and emergency lighting can cost as little as $200, according to Khim Hav, director of Power Cambodia. “It can be difficult to explain to the owner,” he said. “They don’t want to spend money and don’t think it’s a problem.”

“We need to educate people,” added Lim Nam, managing director of the Angkor Night Market, whose business was affected after the fire that destroyed the market in 2012, killing eight people. “It can be difficult. Big damage and loss is a part of how people grow up, so it is hard to make them understand that they need to or can do something about it.”

AziSafe, which deals in fire safety products and training, is a founding member of the Fire Protection Association of Cambodia, a Phnom Penh-based association of about 20 companies that are working to create a code of conduct.

Paul Hurford, a former firefighter and the managing director of AziSafe, believes that Siem Reap businesses need to get together to create something similar.

Until standards are created, however, it is up to businesses to make their own.   

Lim said he has installed a $20,000 fire safety system at the Angkor Night Market, which is notable for its thatch roofing. “It’s good for the country if we take care,” he said.

Multiple attempts to reach Lee Kong Vong, the owner of Hip Hop Club, were unsuccessful.

MOST VIEWED

  • Companies listed on CSX receive 50% deduction on income tax

    Tax incentives are granted to companies that have listed their shares or issued debt securities on the Cambodia Securities Exchange (CSX), whether they are small to medium-sized enterprises or large companies. The nine stock listed companies on the CSX – with seven listed on the Main

  • Siem Reap drain canal now ‘mangrove’ promenade

    A more than half a kilometre long stretch of canal in Siem Reap has been covered and turned into a promenade to attract visitors, said Ly Rasmey, secretary of state at the Ministry of Land Management, Urban Planning and Construction, on September 16. The new pedestrianised

  • Cambodia mourns over UK’s Queen Elizabeth II

    Cambodia has joined other nations around the world to mourn the passing of Queen Elizabeth II, with King Norodom Sihanomi, Prime Minister Hun Sen and National Assembly president Heng Samrin extending their condolences in separate letters. In his letter to the late Queen’s son –

  • Final verdicts for Khmer Rouge leaders ‘vital’ for next generation

    Nearly a decade after the commencement of Case 002/02 against Khieu Samphan back in 2014, the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia (ECCC) is now set to deliver its final verdict for the former Khmer Rouge head of state. The Supreme Court Chamber of the ECCC,

  • Angkor wildlife, aquarium park still to open October

    The Angkor Wildlife and Aquarium complex about 30km southeast of Siem Reap town with initial total investment of more than $70 million is reportedly still on track for an end-October opening. The park is located on a 100ha plot along National Road 6 in Kbon village, Khchas

  • Railway project studies proceed

    The transport ministry is exploring options to expedite preliminary studies on key public railway infrastructure projects, especially the conversion of the Northern Railway Line that links to Thailand into high-speed rail. Railway freight and passenger transportation has been pinpointed as a major potential engine of