China’s Manufacturers Struggle to Impose Safety Standards
September 10, 2012
I visited a State Owned Enterprise (SOE) machine shop near 5th Ring Road in Beijing recently. This manufacturer is a vendor to one of my automotive clients. We went to visit the factory one very hot and humid August afternoon. I think my client took me to this particular factory because it is one of the “best” vendors they work with.
The machine shop was located among a cluster of buildings, apparently all Chinese SOE manufacturing facilities that didn’t seem very remarkable from the outside. But inside was a different story.
We were greeted by the Plant Manager and the Operations Manager, who were expecting us for a visit that afternoon. After the greetings were exchanged, the two managers disappeared to take a phone call and we were left to wander the plant by ourselves, unescorted. My clients didn’t think this was unusual at all, since they visit here regularly.
We walked down the center aisle of the machine shop, surrounded by giant drilling and cutting machinery making thunderous noise and throwing off metal shavings. We were offered no eyewear protection, no foot/toe protection and no earplugs. The Chinese machine tool operators were wearing black cloth shoes with rubber soles; not the steel-toed boots you would expect in a U.S. factory. About half way down the center aisle, a chemical smell was so overwhelming, that I looked for an open window or door to gasp some “fresh Beijing air.” I was allowed to take as many photos as I liked.
I have visited many factories in China, and this particular one was relatively well-organized and did seem like it was better than most Chinese machine shops. But this time, the lack of safety standards and allowing us to walk through the factory unescorted was a dose of reality regarding Chinese manufacturing.
China’s steady climb in the industrial world has not been paralleled with world standards for safety. The climb to achieve these standards in China is likely to be fast, but extremely steep.
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