An explosion at the Chufeng fireworks factory in Tunghsiao, Miaoli County, left five people dead and 14 injured on Sunday night. Despite being legally registered, the factory has had many problems in its internal management. This was the fifth explosion at the factory, which was unable to prevent the latest one despite a change of managers. It is arguably the most dangerous factory in Tunghsiao.
Sunday's explosion brought Taiwan's lax safety management regarding pyrotechnics factories to the public's attention. Fireworks factories are just as dangerous as military ammunition depots. Strict safety regulations are needed during manufacturing, storage and transportation. The slightest mistake in the internal management of fireworks factories and ammunition depots could have unthinkable consequences. Legal factories must pass regular fire prevention and work-site checks, but this did not prevent the Chufeng accident.
According to statistics from the National Fire Agency, a total of 32 accidents have occurred at Taiwan's fireworks factories over the past ten years, leaving 61 people dead and injuring 50. Five of these accidents occurred at legally registered factories, killing five people and injuring six. Taiwan has a significant number of illegal fireworks factories and illegal processing workshops in residential areas. The safety problems they pose are worrying.
As the Lunar New Year draws near, fireworks factories around the country rush to make all types of pyrotechnics to meet the festival demand. Amid the hurry, they often ignore safety regulations -- most explosions at fireworks factories occur in November and December. The fireworks business is quite profitable, so many businesses are still willing to continue making them despite the repeated accidents, which result in monetary losses, deaths, broken families and even lawsuits.
After the Chufeng accident, Taiwan has no reason not to list fireworks factories as a business category that needs special management. The Ministry of the Interior and the Legislative Yuan should speed up the formulation of management regulations for pyrotechnics factories so as to regulate the establishment and operations of fireworks factories under stricter safety standards. The National Fire Agency and the Council of Labor Affairs should perform stricter inspections of factories' public safety facilities, and improve education and training. They should also impose stricter punishments on illegal factories and their owners. Factories with bad public safety records should be shut down indefinitely and their owners should be banned from opening new factories. It is hard to understand how a company like Chufeng has managed to make a comeback after so many accidents.
The government should also make good use of economic incentives. It should require the factories to buy more insurance, levy a higher safety tax on them, raise the threshold for establishing such factories, and try to cut the demand for pyrotechnics by way of pricing.
Pyrotechnics can create a festive atmosphere, but they can also cause tragic accidents. Using fireworkss to liven up a festival is part of our culture and is difficult to prohibit, but it should be possible to prohibit the manufacture and use of relatively unsafe products. Today's technologies should be able to produce safer, more environmentally friendly pyrotechnics. This will reduce the gloom of tragedies while allowing people to revel in the sounds and sparks of pyrotechnics.