01/22/2007, 00.00
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Locked in by owner seven female workers are killed in factory blaze

Owner is arrested. He regularly locked workers in to prevent them from escaping during the night. Four other women are sent to hospital in serious conditions.

Shenzhen (AsiaNews/Agencies) – A blaze that began in an unlicensed factory in Shenzhen's Gongming Township killed seven female workers yesterday morning. The doors and windows were locked to prevent them from escaping. A further four workers were sent to hospital suffering from smoke inhalation.

The women were working in the underwear factory on the second floor of a seven-storey building when the fire started as a result of some surplus material being burnt and then rapidly spreading through the plant.

Witnesses said workers were prevented from escaping because the factory windows had been blocked with metal screens designed to prevent break-ins.

When fire-fighters arrived they were unable to enter the building until the blaze had been brought under control half an hour later.

"The fire was so fierce," a neighbour said, “We could do nothing but watch them die. It was so heart-breaking hearing them call out."

A local official said about 16 people were employed at the factory whose owner was detained.

It is not the first time that locked exits and a lack of fire escapes have resulted in tragedy at a private factory in Guangdong. Last year, a fire killed 13 women in Shantou when a fire broke out in their dormitory. In 1993, 87 workers died in a fire that broke out in a Shenzhen factory. Shenzhen is a hub of China’s new economy.

Central government officials have warned that it would take more than a decade for China to come out of the shadow of high workplace fatalities during its rapid industrialisation.

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