Another Boiler Explosion Kills Two at Factory

Two workers were killed and four injured when a steam generator exploded at a garment factory in Phnom Penh on Saturday, less than three weeks after an accident with the same type of equipment at another factory killed one and injured seven.

The generator, at a facility belonging to an unnamed clothing manufacturer in Meanchey district’s Stung Meanchey commune, blew up at 11:50 a.m. after a security guard, 27-year-old Soeun Phal, added more wood to its fire, said acting commune police chief Em Pheary.

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Workers from a nearby factory stand in front of rubble at the scene of a generator explosion in an unnamed garment factory in Phnom Penh’s Meanchey district on Sunday. (Hannah Hawkins/The Cambodia Daily)

The blast killed the guard instantly, he said. Cleaner Kong Phanny, 61, died shortly after arriving at the Khmer-Soviet Friendship Hospital, while four other workers sustained minor injuries from flying debris, Mr. Pheary added.

Police yesterday said the generator operator had neglected his duties by leaving the factory at lunchtime and has not been seen since.

Yesterday, the site was a scene of devastation with much of the building damaged, and the ceiling and one wall completely destroyed. Workers from a next-door factory were picking their way through the rubble, shattered glass and other material scattered across the compound.

Mr. Pheary said the small-scale factory—which is jointly owned by a Chinese national and a Cambodian and mostly prints and dyes ready-made clothes—had only recently begun operations. He said most of the 20 workers had fortunately gone out for lunch when the explosion occurred or “there might have been more people in danger,” he added.

Last month, a wood-fired steam generator at a factory that produces jeans for U.S. brand Levi’s in Sen Sok district launched about 100 meters into the air before crashing down on a group of workers, killing one instantly and injuring seven others. The Labor Ministry has blamed the generator operator for letting the machine overheat without releasing pressure through a valve.

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Rubble is inspected at a garment factory in Phnom Penh’s Stung Meanchey district yesterday after a steam generator exploded and killed two workers on Saturday. (Hannah Hawkins/The Cambodia Daily)

A similar technical issue could have caused Saturday’s explosion, said Ouch Many, director of the Industry and Handicrafts Ministry’s department of technique, science, and technology.

He blamed the factory management for the incident, saying it had not registered the generator with the department, which performs routine checks on all factory equipment.

“The safety valve might not have worked and made the pressure increase over the limit,” he said, adding that the person operating the generator may not have had adequate technical training.

“When…we do not test it properly, it will have problems.”

Mr. Many did not know the name of the factory. It was not certain yesterday whether the factory has a license to operate.

The Industry and Handicrafts Ministry is not responsible for issuing licenses, Mr. Many said, and a spokeswoman for the Commerce Ministry, which manages business licenses, could not be reached yesterday.

Hour Meng Vang, deputy Meanchey district police chief, said the owners had been questioned, and police were looking for the generator’s operator, who has not been seen since the explosion.

He said the technician—whom he identified only as Um—had neglected the generator by leaving the factory at lunch.

Lim Gekh Heak, the Cambodian co-owner of the factory, said she did not want to be interviewed over the telephone and offered to meet face-to-face today.

However, her mother, who owns a soy sauce production factory next door, told reporters outside her office yesterday that her daughter would be compensating the deceased’s families 12 million riel, or about $3,000, each.

Mr. Pheary, the acting commune police chief, confirmed that compensation talks between Ms. Gekh Heak and the families had begun.

Compensation paid out to those involved in last month’s explosion at the Chinese-owned Zhen Tai Garment Factory has included $12,000 for the family of the worker killed in the blast.

The Industry and Handicrafts Ministry yesterday declared it would start holding training sessions for steam generator operators soon.

“I will have classes to train the boiler operators—those who don’t have much skill and experiences,” said Mr. Many. “Factories need to have clear experts and cannot use an ordinary person to manage it.”

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