MANILA, Philippines – Left-leaning labor groups, which conducted a fact-finding mission on the fire that hit the House Technology Industries (HTI) facility at the Cavite Export Processing Zone, said on Tuesday, February 21, they found the firm violating occupational safety standards.
The groups’ findings were endorsed by party-list representatives belonging to the Makabayan bloc to support their House resolution seeking an investigation into the February 1 incident that injured 126 workers, 3 of whom died in the hospital days later.
The findings of the Center for Trade Union and Human Rights (CTUHR), Ecumencial Institute for Labor Education and Research, Kilusang Mayo Ino, Karapatan, Bayan, Institute for Occupational Health, Safety and Development, and the Cavite-based Workers Assistance Center contradicted the statement of the Philippine Economic Zone Authority (PEZA) that cleared HTI of liability.
PEZA earlier absolved HTI from any safety standards violation. PEZA chief Charito Plaza said on February 6 her agency conducts inspection on export processing zone locators twice a year. The HRD group of companies, HTI’s parent company, have not failed on fire safety standards, she said, citing how the company even regularly win PEZA’s fire safety competiton.
The labor groups said they interviewed 31 HTI workers, their families, relatives, and other people who were situated near HTI from February 4 to 7. They went to the communities in General Trias, Tanza, Rosario, Naic, Noveleta, where boarding houses are located.
Nadia de Leon of the fact-finding mission said stairway exits of the HTI facility did not lead to the streets or fire-resistant passages, violating rule 1943-04 of the Occupational Safety and Health Standards of 1989.
De Leon also noted that the Japanese company did not have a mandated number of exits as stated in the Building Code of the Philippines, which states that 4 exits shall be provided for a space occupied by 1,000 people. (READ: IN PHOTOS: After the fire, EPZA’s HTI building)
“There should be [at least] 12 exits,” said de Leon. There were 3,189 workers who were on shift when the fire broke.
The mission also reported that the fire broke on the second floor of the production area, where combustible materials, such as wood and styrofoam, were located. A centralized vacuum also sucked the saw dusts, causing the fire to spread.
“A witness saw the fire quickly spread due to the chemicals, such as thinner, urethane, paint, solvent, 100% alcohol, acetone, and hydraulic oil stored in the second floor where he was working. Another witness attested that each shift was given a container of chemicals for production use,” the report wrote.
The mission also found that the passageway was not wide enought to allow the escape of the workers inside. Survivors interviewed also recall that there were many people left inside the building.
“Several workers had their backs burned by the blazing fire and other workers fell unconscious and were left behind by the rushing crowd,” the report wrote, citing statements from survivors.
Other HTI workers, however, attest that all workers were able to get out of the building. Some talked of team leaders who – in accordance to fire drills they regularly conducted – made sure their members were safely out of the building before they minded their own safety. (READ: How one worker escaped the HTI fire in Cavite)
The groups called on the labor department “to release all the names” of unaccounted workers, referring to those who did not log in for their shift before the fire hit.
As of February 3, however, Governor Jesus Crispin Remulla said all workers who were supposed to be on duty during the evening shift on February had been accounted for. (READ: HTI workers won’t be jobless for long) – Rappler.com