Compensation Agreed, Worker Arrested After Blast

The family of a woman killed in a deadly explosion at a Phnom Penh factory making Levi’s- branded clothing has agreed to accept $12,000 compensation from the factory’s owners, while police have arrested the operator of a steam generator whom they blame for the accident, in spite of his regular warnings to replace the machine.

Kul Samorn, a 45-year-old worker at Zhen Tai Garment, was killed on Wednesday after the generator exploded from internal pressure buildup and rocketed 100 meters away, crushing her to death and injuring seven others as they were having lunch at the factory’s cafeteria.

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A security guard directs people away from an exploded steam generator inside the Zhen Tai Garment factory compound in Phnom Penh’s Sen Sok district on Wednesday last week. (Hannah Hawkins/The Cambodia Daily)

Kul Samorn’s sister-in-law Kul Sanny, who also works at the factory, said representatives from the Sen Sok district factory had visited her family in Svay Rieng province and agreed to pay out $12,000.

“The factory came here to give us compensation and we agreed to take it already,” she said, adding that the owners also agreed to cover cremation and funeral costs. “We took the compensation instead of filing a complaint.”

The family expected to receive another 4 million riel payout, or about $1,000, from the National Social Security Fund (NSSF) today, she said.

Employees at the factory have spoken of hearing a loud “boom” and seeing the generator bounce and hit a worker’s head. One of the seven injured was a pregnant woman. Five of the other injured workers remained in the hospital on Sunday while two had been sent back home, according to Thong Soeun, a manager for the Khmer Union Federation of Workers Spirit, which represents most of the factory’s workers.

Mr. Soeun said that NSSF would cover the cost of treatment, but said the factory should be responsible for long-term loss of income that any disabled workers might face down the road.

“Even though the factory paid insurance to National Social Security Fund, the factory still has to be responsible for the loss of their livelihood and jobs,” he said.

Instead of holding the Chinese factory owners to account, however, police arrested an employee who operated the steam generator on Saturday for unknown charges, Mr. Soeun said.

“They arrested a worker named Ou Vuth whose job was to take care of the steaming section,” he said.

“It doesn’t seem right because this worker just followed factory rules.”

Mr. Vuth had warned management to replace the aging steam generator on several occasions, according to Mr. Soeun, but had been ignored by higher-ups.

District police chief Mok Hong confirmed that the suspect had been sent to the Phnom Penh Municipal Court for questioning on Saturday, but declined to answer further questions about the charges.

A spokesman for Levi Strauss & Co. said in an email on Saturday that the company remains “involved in the investigation and committed to ensuring the victims and their families are compensated.”

Workers will return to the factory today, according to Mr. Soeun.

The Chinese factory owners have not issued any statement since the accident, and could not be reached on Sunday.

(Additional reporting by Hannah Hawkins)

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