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House probe on deadly Valenzuela factory fire sought

THE House Committee on Labor is set to conduct an investigation into the occupational-safety practices of Kentex Manufacturing Corp., after a fire burned down its Valenzuela slipper factory, killing at least 72 of its workers, its chairman said over the weekend.

House Deputy Majority Leader and Liberal Party Rep. Karlo Alexei B. Nograles, chairman of the panel, said that his committee is set to investigate the incident on May 20.

“This horrific fire should serve as an eye-opener for employers to be mindful of the safety of their employees at all times. I can hardly understand the high number of casualties, despite the alleged existence of fire exits. It should be worthy to find out if the best practices in occupational safety are observed by factories like Kentex,” Nograles said.

According to Nograles the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) has already dispatched occupational-safety officers and labor-law compliance officers to investigate the factory site, and his committee would definitely ask for a copy of their report.

Meanwhile, Nograles said there are at least four measures now pending in his committee which are related to the issue on occupational safety, and he would push for marathon hearings for their early approval.

These bills include House Bill (HB) 2226, or the bill criminalizing non-compliance with occupational safety and health standards; HB 2471, or the bill providing uniform warnings on personal protective equipment for occupational use; HB 4594, or the measure institutionalizing occupational health and safety of workers in the construction industry; and HB 4635, or a measure imposing strict compliance through mandatory inspection and providing penalties for violations of occupational safety and health provisions of the Labor Code.

Liability

Meanwhile, Party-list Rep. Neri J. Colmenares of Bayan Muna said that all those liable in the Kentex inferno should be investigated.

“The upcoming probe by the House Committee on Labor on May 20 should not just look at the occupational-safety mechanisms of Kentex but on the liability of the Department of Labor and Employment and the administration for allowing like structured factories to proliferate in the country,” Senior Deputy Minority Leader Colmenares said.

“The Bureau of Fire Prevention [BFP] should also be summoned at the hearing, because structures like the Kentex factory, dealing with highly combustible materials, should have higher fire-safety standards,” Colmenars added.

Party-list Rep. Antonio L. Tinio of ACT Teachers, for his part,  called for justice for the deaths of 72 workers on May 13.

“The death of at least 72 workers in the Kentex factory fire is a national shame that has exposed the horrific and life-threatening conditions that many Filipino workers face on a daily basis,” Tinio said.

“The working conditions in Kentex factory were inhumane—the workers labored 24/7 surrounded with foul-smelling chemicals, packed in an enclosed, nearly airless building,” he said.

The lawmaker also said that laws and regulations mandate municipal and city fire marshals  of the BFP, who are under the Department of the Interior and Local Government, to routinely inspect establishments for fire hazards, and require that each have enough exits and extinguishers to ensure the safety of persons inside them.

Local chief executives should not issue building permits without the fire safety inspections permits from FMs, and revoke existing ones for those in the blacklists or reported violators which FMs should issue yearly, he added.

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