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Foxconn explosion  (Source:
Polishing workshops will remain closed until inspections have been completed

Explosions at Foxconn Electronics Inc.'s Chengdu plant last Friday have caused the original design manufacturer (ODM) to close all of its workshops until they are inspected. 

Foxconn, which is a subsidiary of Hon Hai Precision Industry Co., is based in Taiwan and has several electronics factories across China. In fact, Foxconn is China's largest electronics exporter for companies like Microsoft Corp., Nintendo Co., Dell Inc., Hewlett-Packard Company, Sony Corp. and Apple Inc.

On Friday, a Foxconn factory in Chengdu, which is known for assembling Apple's iPad as well as iPad components, suffered fiery explosions that killed three employees and injured another 15. Six of the injured employees have been released while the other nine remain hospitalized for the time being. Reports say the explosion was caused by a buildup of flammable dust over the plant's polishing workshop. 

Combustible dust is a known problem for electronics manufacturers, which normally utilize pulverized plastics or aluminum for everyday operations. This dust, being in fine particle form, presents a higher risk for explosions because "more burnable surface area is exposed."

According to reports, a labor rights group called Students & Scholars Against Corporate Misbehavior (Sacom) had warned the Foxconn plant about the excess dust during an investigation back in March and April. The group noted that at least part of the plant contained too much aluminum dust. In addition, Sacom published its findings in a report on May 6 saying that employees even complained about inhaling the dust. But as of right now, it is unclear if Sacom's report specifically mentioned the scene of the explosion.

Now, Hon Hai has announced that all of its workshops that are responsible for polishing electronic products and parts are closed until further notice. Further inspections will determine when the workshops will resume, but a spokesman for Hon Hai estimates that inspections could take about two days. 

"The workshops could be back online as soon as they pass the test," said the Hon Hai spokesman.

Temporarily closing these workshops is absolutely necessary for safety-related reasons, but Foxconn recognizes that these closings could also negatively affect the world's electronics supply. Since Foxconn is one of the leading electronics assemblers, an extended suspension could cause an inventory buildup as well as an inability to finish products, causing disruptions throughout certain processes like packaging. In addition, Foxconn may have to hire expensive labor in Shenzhen, and could even potentially lose major contracts to competitors like Taiwan's Quanta Computer Inc. or Singapore's Flextronics Inc. 

While last week's tragic event presents new problems for Foxconn, it isn't the first setback the ODM has experienced in recent years.  

Foxconn's Apple plants seem to be a problem in particular due to the tech giant's popularity and pressure to produce quality products at low prices and higher quantities. With Apple being Foxconn's biggest client, Foxconn didn't hesitate to do whatever it took to meet Apple's demands. 

Last year, the Chengdu plant was opened just to increase manufacturing of Apple's ever-popular iPad and iPad 2. The plant was placed in Chengdu because labor is cheaper there, and it would decrease overall costs. 

During that time, employees who worked in Foxconn's Apple plants started to complain about the terrible working conditions. Many employees even committed suicide to escape Foxconn's increasing pressure and horrible working conditions. 

Foxconn handled the situation by issuing contracts that forbid employees from committing suicide, as well as offering pay raises and installing anti-suicide nets. Apple has only praised Foxconn for working so diligently on its products, and feels it is not to blame for the suicides. Apple has not commented on Friday's explosions. 

While there's no telling exactly how long inspections will take on the polishing workshops, Hon Hai insists its only concern is in regards to the employees who were hurt or killed by the explosions.

"Our focus now is on providing support to the families of the deceased employees and ensuring that the injured employees have all the medical care and other support that they require," said Hon Hai's spokesman.

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Probable Negligence
By GourdFreeMan on 5/25/2011 7:35:08 AM , Rating: 1
Actually SACOM's report ( ) specifically mentions:

"In the milling machine department in Chengdu, some workers state they always breathe in the aluminium [sic] dust. Workers in the polishing department also complain that the department is full of aluminium [sic] dust. Even though they have worn gloves, their hands are still covered by dust and so as [sic] their face and clothes. Some workers comment that ventilation on shop floor should be improved."

This sounds like a recipe for disaster. They are working in an environment where aluminum dust is in the air, polishing machinery is present that could produce a spark acting as an ignition point, and to make matters worse significant amounts of powdered aluminum has been permitted to accumulate on surfaces in the vicinity of the machinery allowing for the potential of a secondary explosion. I don't really care for the he-said she-said bullshit of the surrounding labor dispute, but there is absolutely no excuse for endangering the health and safety of workers, especially in an industry where workers go into the job expecting to be working in a clean and safe environment. This is consumer electronics manufacturing, not coal mining for god's sake!

It seems likely there has been a break down in either the line management, safety instructors, upper level management or some combination of aforementioned at the Chengdu plant. It should be expected that anyone with a scientific or engineering background knows of the dangers of combustible dust explosions. Has no one ever heard of grain elevator explosions? Secondary explosions in coal mines because of coal dust? Fuel-air bombs? The principal is the same. Something that oxidizes exothermically at a relatively low rate in bulk form, oxidizes much more rapidly when pulverized into particulate form and dispersed in the air. While it is difficult to prevent such explosions from happening altogether (relief venting can mitigate some of the danger to nearby personnel), letting combustible dust accumulate on surfaces (due to lack of ventilation, poor “housekeeping” standards, etc.) leads to a situation where the accumulated dust can be kicked up into the air and cause a secondary explosion.

According to Wikipedia ( ) such secondary explosions are the cause of most fatalities in dust explosions such as the ones at the Chengdu plant.

Other specific health concerns are also raised in the report such as a "cutting fluid" (not identified by its scientific name in the paper) that a worker complained about being exposed to which he "looked [...] up on internet and found the chemical is harmful to lungs". The paper also claims "He had asked the superior about the harm of the chemical but there was no response."

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