Labor Ministry to investigate company hit by deadly fire
Taipei, Sept. 23 (CNA) The Ministry of Labor (MOL) will open an occupational safety investigation into golf ball manufacturer Launch Technologies Co. and its parent company within a week after a fire in its Pingtung County factory left at least six people dead.
In a statement released Saturday, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) said Launch Technologies and its parent company Advanced International Multitech Co. will face stiff punishments if they violated any occupational safety regulations.
The Pingtung County factory where the fire erupted Friday evening had been found to have violated occupational safety rules in the past, according to MOL records, raising questions on whether the incident may have been tied to the company's practices.
Among the six people who lost their lives in the blaze, three were firefighters and the other three were factory workers.
Of the four people who were still unaccounted for as of late Saturday afternoon, one was a firefighter and three were factory workers, according to Pingtung's fire bureau.
Another 98 people were injured, some seriously.
The cause of the fire and subsequent explosions remains under investigation.
The bureau said the explosions caused a section of the factory building to collapse, trapping several individuals beneath the rubble.
The fire was later brought under control, the fire bureau said, but it was not easy for the fire to be completely extinguished as the 20,000-square meter factory was filled with inflammable materials used for golf ball production.
Because the factory was in an export processing zone supervised by the Ministry of Economic Affairs (MOEA), the MOL had authorized the MOEA to conduct occupational safety and health inspections there starting in 2018.
A total of 18 inspections have been conducted since then, with three of them uncovering violations resulting in fines totaling NT$200,000 (US$6,220).
Eight inspections of employment conditions were conducted separately, with three finding violations resulting in fines totaling NT$300,000, the OSHA said.
In a hearing held in the Legislative Yuan, opposition Kuomintang (KMT) lawmaker Wang Hung-wei (王鴻薇) said the Launch Technologies plant had been described as a "sweatshop" with abominable working conditions.
Citing court rulings, Wang also accused the company of requiring its workers to work more hours than permitted by law.
Labor Minister Hsu Ming-chun (許銘春) responded that rescue efforts at the scene were the top priority for the time being but that the MOL and MOEA would coordinate inspections of the company's factories once rescue efforts had concluded.
Speaking with reporters, OSHA chief secretary Wan Jung-fu (萬榮富) said the parent company has six factories in Taiwan, three of which are located in Kaohsiung and the other three in the MOEA's export processing zones.
Wan said the MOL sent people to the scene of the blaze to get a better understanding of what happened and was waiting for the fire bureau's report on the incident.
The report was expected to decide whether the employer will be subject to punishment for the fire and whether prosecutors will launch a follow-up investigation.
At the same time, Wan said, the MOL will ask Launch Technologies to provide assistance and compensation to the affected workers and their families.
The MOL will also work with Pingtung County authorities to take care of migrant workers who were affected by the fire and inform the Taiwan offices of the countries where they came from of the situation, Wan said.
According to Wan, Launch Technologies has a workforce of 664 people, including 109 overseas migrant workers, based on the company's labor insurance records.
Founded on July 28, 2006, Launch Technologies launched an initial public offering on Taiwan's over-the-counter market on Nov. 10, 2014.
The company, which has paid-in capital of NT$520 million, shipped about 262 million golf balls last year, accounting for almost 20 percent of global golf ball shipments and about 50 percent of Taiwan's total golf ball exports.
In the first six months of 2023, Launch Technologies set a new high for earnings per share at NT$6.24, and its consolidated sales in the first eight months of the year were up 13.11 percent year-over-year to NT$2.54 billion.
On Friday, shares of Launch Technologies rose 0.24 percent to close at NT$84.20 on the OTC market. Trading ended before the fire broke out.
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