Kader Toy Factory Fire: Structural Steel Quickly Failed

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On May 10, 1993, a major fire at the Kader Industrial (Thailand) Co. Ltd. factory located in the Nakhon Pathom Province of Thailand killed 188 workers (Grant and Klem 1994). This disaster stands as the world's worst accidental loss-of-life fire in an industrial building in recent history, a distinction held for 82 years by the Triangle Shirtwaist factory fire that killed 146 workers in New York City (Grant 1993).

...Initial reports following the May 1993 fire noted that there were four buildings on the Kader site, three of which were destroyed by the fire. In a sense this is true, but the three buildings were actually a single E-shaped structure (see figure 39.13), the three primary portions of which were designated Buildings One, Two and Three. Nearby was a one-storey workshop and another four-storey structure referred to as Building Four.

...The Fire
Monday, May 10, was a normal workday at the Kader facility. At approximately 4:00 p.m., as the end of the day shift approached, someone discovered a small fire on the first floor near the south end of Building One. This portion of the building was used to package and store the finished products, so it contained a considerable fuel load (see figure 39.14). Each building at the facility had a fuel load composed of fabric, plastics and materials used for stuffing, as well as other normal workplace materials.

Security guards in the vicinity of the fire tried unsuccessfully to extinguish the flames before they called the local police fire brigade at 4:21 p.m. Authorities received two more calls, at 4:30 p.m. and 4:31 p.m. The Kader facility is just beyond the jurisdictional boundaries of Bangkok, but fire apparatus from Bangkok, as well as apparatus from Nakhon Pathom Province, responded.

The first fire apparatus arrived at 4:40 p.m., their response time having been extended because of the relatively remote location of the facility and the gridlock conditions typical of Bangkok traffic. Arriving fire-fighters found Building One heavily involved in flames and already beginning to collapse, with people jumping from the third and fourth floors.

Despite the fire-fighters' efforts, Building One collapsed completely at approximately 5:14 p.m. Fanned by strong winds blowing toward the north, the blaze spread quickly into Buildings Two and Three before the fire brigade could effectively defend them. Building Two reportedly collapsed at 5:30 p.m., and Building Three at 6:05 p.m. The fire brigade successfully kept the fire from entering Building Four and the smaller, one-storey workshop nearby, and the fire-fighters had the blaze under control by 7:45 p.m. Approximately 50 pieces of fire apparatus were involved in the battle.

Thai toy factory fire: 10 years after the world’s worst industrial inferno
Excerpt from "WSWS : News & Analysis : Asia" 16 May 2003. By Peter Symonds.

On May 10, ten years ago, the worst factory fire in history took place at the Kader Industrial toy factory on the outskirts of the Thai capital of Bangkok. Officially 188 workers, most of them young women from impoverished rural families, died in the blaze. Another 469 were injured; many seriously and permanently, after they were forced to leap from second, third and fourth floors of the buildings to avoid being burnt to death.

Hundreds of workers were packed into each of the three buildings that collapsed. There were no fire extinguishers, no alarms, no sprinkler systems and the elevated walkways between the buildings were either locked or used as storage areas. The buildings themselves were death traps, constructed from un-insulated steel girders that buckled and gave way in less than 15 minutes. Those who attempted to flee through the narrow ground floor exits found them jammed shut.

Excerpt from "ILO Report onthe Fire at Kader Industrial Co. Ltd Factory"
(Buddha Monthon Nakhon Pathom Province, Thailand. Monday, 10 May 1993) by David Gold, 4 June 1993

1. There was a major industrial fire with a significant loss of life which took place in the Kader Industrial (Thailand) Co. Ltd. Factory located in Nakhon Pathom Province, Thailand on the afternoon of Monday, 10 May 1993. The factory was located approximately 30 kilometers from the centre of Bangkok.

2. Kader Industrial (Thailand) Co. Ltd. is a company owned in-part by foreign interests. The company, along with two sister companies occupied four large buildings and several smaller associated buildings.

3. There have been several fires at this location prior to the 10 May 1993 fire, one on 16 August 1989 and the more recent being 13 February 1993.

* The fire in August 1989 destroyed three buildings and all associated machinery and equipment. Its cause was attributed to polyester fabric (used in the manufacture of dolls) igniting in a spinning machine. The manufacturing license was revoked by the authorities shortly after this fire. A new manufacturing license was applied for and granted.

* A small fire erupted late at night in a storage area on 13 February 1993. The cause of this fire which burned polyester and cotton has not yet been released. There were no reported injuries or deaths attributed to the 13 February fire. Within a few days after the 13 February fire, a labour inspector visited the factory and issued a warning containing five points. The warning addressed the need to appoint safety officers, the need for the provision of safety equipment, the provision of safety equipment for a goods lift to transport material from the first to the upper floors, health examination of workers and the need to provide an emergency plan.

4. It is reported that buildings numbers 1-4 were four story buildings constructed with an unprotected steel structure. (Unprotected means that the steel was not insulated against heat and looses its strength at high temperatures such as those generated in a structural fire.) The floor of the four buildings were prefabricated concrete. The fire completely destroyed three of the four large buildings.

5. Two stairways serviced the upper floors of each building. These stairways were the only means of access and egress to the upper floors with the exception of a goods lift and the connecting structures to other buildings. The width of each stairway was 1.5 metres. Buildings 1-3 were joined at each upper floor by a connecting structure and building 3 was connected to building 4 with a bridge at the level of the second floor.

6. Building number 1 was a four story building and is where the fire reportedly started on the first floor. According to the acting general manager, the first floor was used by the die cutting and sewing section. The second floor was a warehouse for finished products. The third floor was used by the finishing section and the fourth floor was used by the sewing section.

7. The Kader Industrial (Thailand) Co. Ltd. Factory reportedly manufactured soft stuffed toy animals in building number 1 and plastic dolls in building number 2.

8. It is understood from the acting general manager that in building number 1, normally thirty-six workers were engaged in activities on the first floor, ten on the second floor, five hundred on the third floor and six hundred workers on the fourth floor. It is reported that most of the deaths occurred to workers on the fourth floor.

9. It has been estimated that the fire broke out at approximately 4:00 p.m. The Police Fire Brigade received initial notification of the fire at 4:21 pm and the first fire apparatus arrived at the scene 19 minutes later. At this point building number 1 was in a partial state of collapse.