China suspends work at hundreds of factories after deadly blast

A preliminary investigation suggested the blast at Kunshan Zhongrong Metal Products Co. was triggered when a flame was lit in a dust-filled room. Photo credit: Reuters

KUNSHAN, China (Reuters) -- China has suspended work at more than 200 factories in an eastern province for safety checks as part of a nationwide review following an explosion at an auto parts plant that killed 75 people, government officials and state media said.

It was not immediately clear today what impact the move could have on auto production, but officials have been ordered to shut all aluminium and magnesium processing factories -- and others that generate metal dust -- for safety violations, the Jiangsu provincial government said in a statement.

Some 214 factories in Suzhou and 54 factories in Kunshan have been shut and will not reopen until they obtain government approval.

The time frame for the move was not disclosed, but some companies affected by the safety blitz said they expect to resume work in about one to three weeks.

When Reuters visited the Suzhou Industrial Park, which hosts a number of foreign auto suppliers, most of the factories were still running and had only suspended work in areas that generate metal dust.

U.S supplier Metaldyne, which makes automotive parts such as valves and gears, said the government order only affected one productions line that uses about a dozen workers out of a total of 300 at the plant.

"So far, our production and delivery schedule hasn't been affected, but there may be some impact if operation at that facility is suspended for too long," said Yuan, a safety officer at Metaldyne, who would only give her surname.

She added that the plant should resume full production in between two and three weeks.

An official at Georg Fischer, which produces cast components for vehicles, consumer goods and machinery, said the company only had to shut down one piece of equipment and expects production at the affected workshop to restart in about a week.

Safety checks

Provinces such as Shaanxi, Tianjin and Sichuan, as well as Guangxi region, have also stepped up safety checks. The crackdown comes after a blast at Kunshan Zhongrong Metal Products Co. on Saturday, China's worst industrial accident in a year. 

State media reported that investigators' preliminary findings show Kunshan Zhongrong bears the main responsibility for the blast in Jiangsu, which also injured 185 people when a flame was lit in a dust-filled room.

An hour's drive from Shanghai, Kunshan Zhongrong polishes wheel hubs for automakers, including General Motors Co.

"The suspended factories were found to suffer the same safety risk of dust pollution," the official Xinhua news agency said on Wednesday, citing the government in Suzhou, which includes the satellite city Kunshan.

Xinhua did not give further details on the factories or what they produced. Jiangsu and Zhejiang provinces are known for their alloy wheel makers, with Jiangsu home to four of China's top 10 exporters, according to the Automobile Association.

Earlier this week, President Xi Jinping demanded a full inquiry into what happened at Kunshan Zhongrong and pledged that those responsible be punished. China's State Council Work Safety Commission ordered nationwide inspections and a safety campaign targeting factories that process aluminium, magnesium, coal, wood, paper, tobacco, cotton and plastic, Xinhua said.

Xinhua also said authorities would draw up comprehensive regulations for dust control at factories.

Police took at least two Kunshan Zhongrong representatives into custody earlier this week, Xinhua reported. 

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