Small fireworks workshops blamed for faulty products

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The latest national governmental investigation into the safety of fireworks production found that more than half of the fireworks made by small workshops are unsafe, despite the country's best efforts to protect the public, a senior official said.

Li Yuanping, spokesman with the General Administration of Quality Supervision, Inspection and Quarantine (AQSIQ), said at a news conference held in Beijing on Thursday that 53 percent of the products from small fireworks factories across the country did not pass the government's spot check.

The survey, conducted by the quality supervision watchdog, covered 492 batches of products originating in 309 fireworks factories throughout 10 provinces. About half of the products came from small workshops and about 70 percent met the government's safety standards.

Li said the hazards stemming from small workshops have brought down the average level of safety in the industry, adding that 91 percent of the fireworks manufactured by large factories meet governmental standards, as do 84 percent of the fireworks made by medium-sized producers.

Of the substandard fireworks, about 80 percent were found to come with inadequate instructions and faulty fuse settings, Li said.

According to the AQSIQ, local quality watchdogs have suspended the operations of the substandard workshops and confiscated the dangerous products. To help customers avoid dangerous fireworks, Li said officials will post shopping advice on the administration's website.

China is both the world's largest producer and consumer of fireworks. The value of its total output of various types of pyrotechnics in 2010 topped 28 billion yuan ($4.3 billion).

Despite the country's long-standing familiarity with fireworks, reports of deaths caused by the small explosives remained common as the Spring Festival drew near.

According to the AQSIQ, fireworks caused 1,681 accidents during the Spring Festival holidays in 2009. Those led to five deaths and 1,857 injuries.

Official data also showed that 188 people employed in the production and distribution of fireworks died in explosions in 2009, a decrease compared with the annual average of 400 deaths between 1986 and 2005.

In a recent disaster caused by fireworks production, two blasts occurred on Jan 12 in Fengxiang county in Shaanxi province. The first blast, which killed nine people and injured two, occurred at about 5 pm in a fireworks-processing shop in Shendu village. An hour later, the second explosion, also caused by firecracker processing, injured three people in the village of Laoying.

In 2005, the State Administration of Work Safety began issuing special permits meant to restrict the number of fireworks producers. By January 2010, there were 5,000 registered factories in the mainland, far fewer than the 10,000 that were present at a historical peak time. The government's goal is to reduce that number by another 1,000 by 2015.

Zhao Jiayu, a professor of pyrotechnics chemistry at the Beijing Institute of Technology, told China Daily on Thursday that the State Council came out in favor in Nov 2010 of taking stronger measures to supervise the manufacture and use of fireworks.

"The safety of the industry has been much better in recent years, thanks to the government's efforts," Zhao said, adding that it will take at least three years of improvement to reach an ideal standard. He said unsafe products have not been found in equal concentrations throughout the country.

"In big cities, Beijing for instance, the qualification rate for fireworks has been maintained at more than 95 percent," he said.

Meanwhile at the news conference, the AQSIQ announced that, in the past year, it had examined 411 million batches of imported goods worth US$672 billion. Among them were 125,000 batches - worth $73 billion - that were found to be substandard.

Yang Gang, deputy chief of the administration, said the administration will hold news conferences every month to better relay information on the quality of various products to the public.

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