At least 19 people were killed and another 172 injured when a fuel tanker exploded on a highway outside the coastal town of Wenling in Zhejiang on Saturday. As of Sunday, it was reported that 24 people are still in critical condition.
The transport company that owned the liquified natural gas tanker, Ruiyang Dangerous Goods Transportation Co., Ltd., had been fined a total of ten times for safety violations between 2016 and 2018, state media reported. The total fines, however, came to just 14,100 yuan.
Four of the ten citations were for failure to carry out regular comprehensive vehicle checks. Other violations were related to failure to comply with local government regulations and safety standards. Official records also show that the Rui’an-based company had been involved in four traffic accidents during this period.
Lack of serious repercussions for violations and minimal follow-up or other enforcement is a disturbing pattern. It is a regular occurrence in China for the media and official investigators to discover after the fact that companies involved in major workplace accidents have long records of safety violations.
For example, following the massive explosion at the Tianjiayi Chemical Co. plant near Yancheng in Jiangsu that killed at least 78 people on 21 March 2019, it was revealed that the facility had been cited the previous year for 13 safety violations by the then State Administration of Work Safety. These violations included a lack of qualified personnel, insufficient safety training, lack of clear safety protocols, poor quality control, poor signage, chemical tank leakages and neglect of fire hazards.
Because of lax enforcement, many transport companies in China routinely ignore safety regulations. Moreover, the intense competition in the industry means that many companies and individual drivers are tempted to cut corners by overloading vehicles or driving too many hours without proper rest.
As CLB reported earlier this month, the tower crane leasing business tells a similar story, with a spate of accidents over the last month. Increased competition among crane leasing companies has led to cost cutting and a lack of essential maintenance, resulting in structural cracks in the cranes, loose bolts and joint failures.
The transport sector in general, and truck drivers in particular, have been a major focus of the All-China Federation of Trade Unions’ recruitment drive over the last few years, but so far truck drivers have seen little improvement in either their pay or working conditions, and they continue to risk their lives in over-loaded and dangerous vehicles.