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Taiwan's Filipino community calls for safer environment for workers

After migrant worker dies from acid spill, Taiwan's Filipino community calls for improved safety for workers

Tagubasi being placed in ambulance. (Miaoli County Fire Department photo)

Tagubasi being placed in ambulance. (Miaoli County Fire Department photo)

TAIPEI (Taiwan News) -- Taiwan's Filipino community on Saturday (Aug. 31) called on factories to provide better safety to workers after a Filipina migrant worker died from a chemical spill at an electronics factory in Miaoli County.

The worker, identified as 29-year-old Deserie Castro Tagubasi, was wearing protective clothing to clean circuit boards with hydrofluoric acid in an electronics plant run by Tyntek Corporation (鼎元光電) in the Chunan Science Park Wednesday (August 28) morning. However, as she turned around, she accidently knocked over the container and the substance spattered the back of her legs, which the clothing did not cover.

She suffered chemical burns over a large surface of her legs, and while colleagues tried to help her, she still died after her transfer to hospital, reports said. As few hospitals are equipped to deal with burns from hydrofluoric acid, the woman had to be transferred by ambulance from the factory in Miaoli to the Veterans’ General Hospital in Taipei.

Labor Attache and Director of the Philippine Overseas Labor Office in Taichung Fidel A. Macauyag told CNA that he hopes that police and labor authorities will implement an in-depth investigation into the accident to avoid such incidents from happening in the future. He said that he will work with the Occupational Safety and Health Administration.

Macauyag told the news agency that "The government can implement regulations to prevent similar accidents." He added that he hopes that "something can be done to properly protect not only foreign, but local workers."

He said that he had talked to the victim's coworkers and questions remain about the safety practices at the facility. Macauyag asserted that the company should be held liable if it is found guilty of negligence.

Macauyag said to CNA that highly corrosive substances are used to clean metals and electronic parts in the plant. Yet, the workers are merely given an meager apron for protection, "which only covers the body from the upper chest to the knees," said Macauyag.

He found this to be far from adequate, "I think that if a person is working with these chemicals, they should be fully protected and neutralizing agents should be readily available on the premises in case of accidents." Incredibly, Macauyag said that a coworkers who provided first aid to Tagubasi told him that there were no chemicals on hand to neutralize the highly caustic substance.

A worker told CNA that the workers were only afforded a lab gown, which only reached to just below the knees. "When we handled chemicals we just added an apron, two thick facial masks, headgear and optional goggles,” she said.

The employee added that the firm did not provide them with adequate safety training. Furthermore, they received no instruction regarding first aid nor what to do in the event of an emergency.

Tsao Chun-feng (曹春風), a section chief with the fire department, said that when paramedics arrived on the scene, the victim was still conscious, but she had a strained expression on her face due to the intense pain, reported ETtoday. In addition, Tsao said the factory did not apply hexafluralin nor diphoterine to her wounds when providing first aid, which is one of the factors leading to serious consequences, according to the report.

On Thursday evening (Aug. 29), a netizen criticized the factory for giving out only half-length protective clothing to the migrant workers, and for not preparing hexafluralin or diphoterine neutralizing agents. He wrote, "Some netizens said that 500 cc of this neutralizing agent would cost NT$6,000. It's not cheap, I don't understand the manufacturer's mentality."

Hydrofluoric acid is one of the strongest acids known to man and therefore is extremely corrosive and toxic, and able to cause death when touching the skin as it can penetrate all the way into bones and internal organs. It is frequently used in the electronics industry and for metal cleaning and glass etching.