updated 04:30 pm EDT, Mon March 12, 2012
Report raises questions about inspections
Apple inspected a Pegatron plant building iPad 2s mere hours before an explosion injured at least 59 people, according to workers interviewed by NPR. The number of injured was initially pegged at 61, but Apple currently claims 59. NPR says it met with 25 victims of the blast last week, such as He Wenwen, who was calibrating a machine used to polish iPad 2 backs when the explosion happened.
"I saw a fireball coming towards me," He explains. "I lost consciousness for a few seconds. "Later, when I opened my eyes, I saw dense smoke and fire everywhere. I felt scared, really scared. I could hear people crying and screaming."
Apple blames the explosion on a build up of dust including aluminum particles created during polishing. Pegatron's story is more specific, claiming that the explosion started in equipment collecting the aluminum. He Wenwen comments that while each polishing machine had an exhaust pipe, and the plant had a vacuum system, dust was a constant problem. "We wore face masks, very thick masks," he says. "But when we took them off, our nostrils were full of dust. The air in the factory looked a bit like fog."
Another worker at the Pegatron plant, Zhang Qing, says that neither he nor his colleagues were told about a similar but fatal explosion at a Foxconn iPad plant several months earlier, or that the dust was combustible. Zhang remarks that the day of the Pegatron explosion, managers told subordinates to clean up the dust because Apple inspectors were coming.
Liu Hengchao notes that the inspectors had white gloves to check for dust. "There certainly has to be dust," he says. Factory management told workers not to talk to the inspectors, however, and the inspectors allegedly spent 10 minutes in Liu's area before leaving. Liu comments that if he had been able to speak, would've told the inspectors that "They could improve the environment somewhat, because the environment is too terrible."
Since the Foxconn incident Apple claims to have conducted an investigation and taken steps to avoid future accidents, such as requiring the regular testing of airflow in ventilation systems around combustible dust. The Pegatron workers, though, say that no one at Apple contacted them until after NPR contacted Apple, at which point workers started getting calls checking on injuries and compensation, the latter amounting to about $800 per person.