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70 Chinese Construction Workers Die in Collapse of Bamboo Scaffolding at Power Plant

The use of bamboo scaffolding on modern construction sites has lead to numerous accidents in China

 

November 26, 2016

Traditional bamboo scaffolding at a construction site in eastern China collapsed into a deadly heap on Thursday, said Chinese State TV. Iron pipes, steel bars and wooden planks tumbling down on about 70 workers in the country's worst work-safety accident in over two years.

The application of bamboo scaffolding to large modern construction sites has lead to many accidents, in combination with the lack of safety enforcement by the Chinese government. Chinese President Xi Jinping promised a full investigation into the disaster.

At least 67 people were killed by the collapse of the work platform at a power plant cooling tower that was under construction, state media reported. Two others were injured and one worker was missing.

The reported death toll suggested that nearly all the construction workers at the cooling tower perished. Close to 70 people were working at the site when the scaffolding gave out, according to local media reports.

The cooling tower was being built in the city of Fengcheng in Jiangxi province when the scaffolding tumbled down at about 7:30 a.m., an official with the local Work Safety Administration who would only give his surname, Yuan, said by telephone.

In 2013, there were 1,751 registered bamboo scaffolders and roughly 200 scaffolding companies in Hong Kong. The use of bamboo scaffolding is diminishing due to shortages in labor and material. Despite the lack of labor force and material, recently the safety problem has become another serious concern.

Chinese President Xi Jinping urged local governments to learn from the accident and hold those responsible accountable. He said that in the wake of recent work accidents, the State Council, China's Cabinet, should carry out thorough inspections of work sites to reduce risks.

China has suffered several major work-safety accidents in recent years blamed on weak regulatory oversight, systemic corruption and pressure to boost production amid a slowing economy.

Also Thursday, Yang Dongliang, a former head of the State Administration of Work Safety, stood trial in a Beijing court for allegedly accepting $4.3 million in bribes between 2002 and last year, as he rose through the ranks as an official in Tianjin before joining the regulatory agency.

The labor shortage may be due to the reluctance of younger generations to become scaffolders. "They even think that it's a dirty and dangerous job. They are not going to do that kind of work," said Yu Hang Flord, who has been a scaffolder for 30 years and later became the director of Wui Fai Holdings, a member of the Hong Kong and Kowloon Scaffolders General Merchants Association. "They refuse to step in, although we give them high pay. They are scared of it. Young generations do not like jobs that involve hard work."

Another reason fewer people are becoming scaffolders is that new recruits need to undergo training with the Hong Kong Construction Industry Council in order to acquire a license. Older scaffolders generally learned in apprenticeships, and may have been able to gather more hands-on experience.

Material shortages are also a contributing factor to the decline. The bamboo scaffolding material was imported from mainland China. Bamboo-which matures after three years to the wide diameter and thick skin perfect for scaffolding-came from the Shaoxing area in Guangdong. Over the past two decades, firms have had to look to Guangxi instead. The industry's fear is that one day supplies will be blocked due to export embargoes and environmental concerns. Attempts to import bamboo from Thailand, or switch to synthetic or plastic bamboo, have so far proved unsuccessful.

 

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