TANGERANG (Indonesia) • Police investigating a fire that killed nearly 50 people at a fireworks factory on the outskirts of Jakarta late last month have found multiple safety violations at the plant, which was crammed with three times the number of workers allowed.
The Oct 26 blaze in the congested industrial suburb of Tangerang, one of Indonesia's worst industrial disasters, has cast a spotlight on lax safety standards in the country, where rules are often ignored or weakly enforced.
Reuters interviews with police investigators, government officials and survivors show that at the time of the fire, the factory was overcrowded, had only one exit, and a single mid-sized fire extinguisher even though it had reported having four on-site.
The building housed more than 4,000kg of combustible materials in various locations, which, police say, made it all too easy for the fire to rip through the 2,600 sq m factory within minutes, killing 49 workers and injuring dozens more.
Survivors told Reuters they had not had any emergency training or drills, and were not familiar with evacuation routes. Police spokesman Argo Yuwono said there was no indication anyone had tried to use the fire extinguisher.
"It was total panic and the fire was quickly out of control," he said. "The workers had zero training in how to respond in an emergency or how to use a fire extinguisher."
Police have detained the owner and operations manager of the company on suspicion of negligence leading to death. They face at least five years in prison if found guilty.
A representative for the parent company of PT Panca Buana Cahaya Sukses said the firm would pay for all survivors' medical treatment, but declined to comment on the legal case.
It was total panic and the fire was quickly out of control. The workers had zero training in how to respond in an emergency or how to use a fire extinguisher.
POLICE SPOKESMAN ARGO YUWONO, on the lack of safety measures at the fireworks factory in Tangerang.
On the day of the fire, 103 workers, paid an average of 40,000 rupiah (S$4) a day, had filed into the dusty and stuffy factory.
Police said that soon after the day's work got under way, at around 9.20am, sparks from unauthorised welding work landed on tall stacks of unpackaged fireworks, causing at least two explosions that shook neighbouring buildings and could be heard miles away.
Within minutes, survivors said, the front area and only exit were engulfed in fire and thick black smoke, trapping the workers and sending them scrambling towards the back of the building.
Police found 44 bodies piled up in a back corner of the building, all charred beyond recognition. Bodies were identified using dental records and DNA samples from families.
The authorities suspect that violations are rampant among thousands of factories in the area, and they are threatening to close any that does not meet safety requirements.
"Small and medium-sized companies are the ones likely to ignore the rules, and they are the ones that are difficult to regulate," said Mr Ahmed Zaki Iskandar, the regent of Tangerang, adding that companies making products like paper, fuel or paint will be targeted first.
He said the company in question had been inspected by safety officials and was issued a permit to employ up to 35 people, but had actually recruited over 100.