Cavite factory blaze injures more than a hundred workers

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MORE than a hundred workers were injured in an 18-hour fire that gutted a Japanese-run factory in General Trias, Cavite, authorities said Thursday.

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ECOZONE INFERNO Fire engulfs the Japanese-owned House Technology Industries factory at the Cavite Export Processing Zone in General Trias, Cavite. Cavite Gov. Jesus Crispin Remulla said on Thursday more than 100 workers were injured. PHOTO BY BOY JOSUECavite Governor Jesus Crispin Remulla said at least 104 people were brought to different hospitals, a number of them in “very critical” condition and with third-degree burns on 70 to 90 percent of their bodies.

Fire Sr. Supt. Sergio Soriano Jr., regional director of the Calabarzon Bureau of Fire Protection, said fire broke out around 5 p.m. Wednesday at Japanese-owned House Technology Industries (HTI).

The cost of damage was pegged at P5 billion.

“Based on an unofficial report, the fire was caused by an overheated insulation stamping machine. Of course, there were lots of wood materials which are very combustible and were easily burned,” said Remulla in a radio interview.

Charito Plaza, director general of the Philippine Economic Zone Authority (PEZA), said about 7,000 employees were at work during the incident and some of those on the upper floor were trapped because the fire broke out on the second floor of the six-hectare facility.

The official said PEZA would provide assistance to the victims.

HTI, where housing materials for export to Japan are manufactured, is the biggest firm in the Cavite Export Processing Zone. The factory was also hit by fire four years ago.

Remulla said PEZA is a special economic zone with its own charter and is not under the jurisdiction of the provincial or municipal government. He, however, said the Japanese firm would be investigated for lapses in fire safety measures.

The Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) has dispatched a team of inspectors to conduct a probe into the fire.

“I have directed an immediate determination of whether or not HTI has complied with basic employment standards and to assess the extent of assistance we can provide,” Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello 3rd said on Thursday.

DOLE records showed that HTI employed 10,892 workers. Of that number, 4,263 were directly hired workers and 6,629 were employed by five contractors.

Bello said hospitalized workers would be entitled to medical or hospital benefits and sickness benefits of up to 120 days, at a maximum of P200 per day. Those who were injured will get free rehabilitation.

The Association of Labor Unions said the fire incident showed the need to revive the power of the Labor secretary to enter factories and workplaces at any time to ensure employers’ compliance with general labor and workplace safety and health standards.

“Labor laws have been advertently relaxed by DOLE for quite some time now to accommodate employers and management interests at the expense of workers’ deaths, injury and oppression,” spokesman Alan Tanjusay claimed.

WILLIAM B. DEPASUPIL

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