Risky factory coexistence
The blaze at Prapakorn lubricant oil warehouse in Nakhon Pathom province's Sam Phran district on Monday was put under control within a few hours and the police arrested the suspected arsonist within two days.
It wasn't long until media attention fizzled out but was anything learned from what happened? And will it possibly lead to any positive changes for residential areas near factories or chemical warehouses?
Any answers might not be encouraging.
The Pollution Control Department (PCD) sent officials to monitor the water quality in Klong Om Yai to prevent chemical runoff from flowing into the Tha Chin River. Attapol Charoenpansa, director-general of the PCD, said the water quality remained normal but there was no news if health officials inspected the health of nearby community residents or measured the area's groundwater.
Anyone following environmental news in Thailand knows that what happened on Monday will not be the last blaze near a residential area. It's just another example that highlights bad land use between industrial activities and the community.
Unlike countries with good town planning and effective environmental and safety controls, in Thailand, factories -- even with hazardous substances -- are found in community areas.
This risky co-existence is the outcome of industrial development arriving decades before town planning and land use regulations were put in place.
Old factories existing before the regulations were put in place have been allowed to remain despite the areas around them becoming residential zones. It is a normal scene to see factories or chemical warehouses standing a mere stone's throw away from houses, schools and even hospitals.
So it is not unusual for communities to be affected by fires erupting in nearby factories or chemical warehouses. On top of that, there's also the broader risk of ongoing pollution from such industrial sites.
But the problem goes beyond town planning. A bigger issue is factory safety inspections. There are not enough officials who can conduct safety inspections in the country's 170,000 factories.
Despite the updated Factory Act 2019 introduced by National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO), there are issues about how effective it is.
The act transferred 100,000 smaller-sized factories to be inspected by local administrations while also allowing factories and the local administration to hire third-party auditors to help.
It's a new system that has yet to prove itself as workable and it's been doubted that local administrations have the resources and expertise to conduct safety audits.
But along with officials, local administration and third-party auditors, residents should be included in inspecting the safety of industrial sites that pose a potential threat to their community.
Residents cannot be left in the dark on how they might be at risk.
To see what is possible, the authorities can look beyond the act and launch pilot projects in some areas such as Samut Prakan or Bangkok where local committees chaired by local residents and factories can be formed. Such committees could conduct regular safety inspections and practice evacuation plans.
It's a step in the right direction. After several decades of failing to enhance safety at factories, it should allow residents to learn how to best protect themselves when accidents strike.
Bangkok Post editorial column
These editorials represent Bangkok Post thoughts about current issues and situations.
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