In 1993, Thailand’s worst-ever industrial disaster killed more than 180 workers in a catastrophic conflagration. Indeed, although it received little publicity outside Thailand, the Kader Doll Factory fire is the worst industrial factory fire ever recorded, claiming a greater number of victims than the infamous and well-publicized Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire that took place in New York back in 1911.
The Kader Doll Factory manufactured plastic dolls and stuffed toys, mostly branded items for big American corporations like Mattel and Disney. The workforce mainly consisted of young women from rural families who toiled in a badly designed E-shaped multi-story production facility, built to poor standards. Despite fire exits being shown on original construction plans, these were not actually included in the finished building. Furthermore, it was usual practice to keep the exit doors that were there locked during working hours.
It was a recipe for disaster, which duly unfolded on a May afternoon after a small fire started in a first-floor area of Building One, used to store finished goods. This was thought to be so insignificant by management that the fire alarm wasn’t sounded and workers were instructed to remain at their posts. But the fire spread with frightening speed, not only within their section but also to flammable raw materials elsewhere in the factory.
As workers in Building One scrambled to escape, they found ground-floor exit doors locked. The building’s skeleton consisted of unprotected steel girders that soon buckled and twisted in the intense heat, making the staircase unusable. As terrified workers jumped from upper floors the building collapsed, just as firefighting teams arrived on site.
Nearly 190 workers died in the blaze, or subsequently from burns and smoke inhalation, while 500 were injured. The other buildings were evacuated without loss of life.
When was the Kader Doll Factory Fire: May 10 1993
Where was the Kader Doll Factory Fire: Sam Phran, Nakhon Pathom Province, Thailand
What was the Kader Doll Factory Fire death toll: 188
You should know: Despite agonized public utterances by Thai politicians after this horrifying disaster, and solemn promises of a review of industrial safety standards and proper enforcement of those that did exist, little changed. As is so often the case, the imperative to sustain economic growth at any price ensured that bold promises to shut down every Thai factory without adequate fire safety systems were quietly forgotten once the Kader Doll Factory fire faded from the headlines.