The lessons of the Chiang Mai factory explosion

Representatives of Thai Government ministries, employers, workers and the ILO come together to learn for the future from the Chiang Mai factory explosion.

Press release | BANGKOK | 23 December 1999

BANGKOK (ILO News) B After the chemical explosion that cost dozens of Chiang Mai factory workers their lives last September and the savage blaze in an oil refinery earlier this month on Thailand=s eastern seaboard, Chiang Mai is playing host to representatives of six Government ministries, employers and workers who have been brought together by the Thai Government and the International Labour Office (ILO) to work out exactly what went wrong and seek ways to keep it from re-occurring.

Also participating in the workshop, which ends on December 24, are members of the accident investigation working group that was set up to determine the causes of the September blast in a Chiang Mai fruit-processing factory.

The workshop is expected to frame a note of guidance on lessons learnt in the light of the two major accidents that blackened Thailand=s industrial landscape as the century drew to a close

A major issue is how to train employers and workers to handle dangerous chemicals properly and make factories safe and healthy. In today=s information society specialists, including academics, attach more and more importance to the design and management of effective safety information systems.

ILO Bangkok Area Office acting director Siwu Liu said that the International Labour Organization=s commitment to ASafeWork@ involved a worldwide effort to make people aware of the effects of work-related accidents, injuries and diseases; promotion of basic protection for all workers in conformity with international labour standards; and building the capacity of ILO member States and industry to design and implement effective preventive and protective policies and programmes.

Mr Liu continues: AWhere the safety of workers is concerned, action cannot be deferred. It must be swift, it must be effective and it will not be either unless it is based on firm agreement between government, employers and workers@.

Mr Liu noted that international labour standards on industrial safety included two Conventions that can lead Thailand up the ladder to healthy and safer conditions of work.

The ILO=s Chemicals Convention, 1990 (No. 170), requires ratifying States to apply a coherent policy on the safe use of chemicals at work with respect to national conditions and practices and in consultation with the most representative organizations of employers and workers. The policy should address issues like classification systems, labelling and marking, responsibilities of suppliers and employers, the transfer of chemicals, exposure, operational control, disposal, information and training, the duties of workers, the rights of workers and their representatives, and responsibilities of exporting States.

The Organization=s Prevention of Major Industrial Accidents Convention, 1993 (No. 174), outlines the obligations, rights and duties of governments, employers and workers alike to limit the destructive potential of major accidents involving hazardous substances and keep them from happening.

Though the procedures for ratifying these Conventions can sometimes take time to complete B allowing for study, consultations, understanding and acceptance by all of the duties Conventions carry, changes in national law, etc. B Mr Liu says that the ILO sees many areas in which it can benefit a country to base its practices on those set out in international labour standards without even waiting for ratification to take place.

AThat@, the director says, Ais why the ILO works closely with employers, workers and governments to enable them to comply with Conventions, even when ratification may require more time, as with the Chemicals Convention and the Prevention of Major Industrial Accidents Convention in South-East Asia. Accidents like the Chiang Mai fruit-processing factory blaze tell us that we would be wrong to postpone action to increase workplace safety.