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Apple: Explosions Caused By Aluminium Dust

Matt Broersma is a long standing tech freelance, who has worked for Ziff-Davis, ZDnet and other leading publications

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Two explosions at Apple suppliers last year were caused by aluminium dust from the milling and polishing of iMacs and iPads, Apple has confirmed

Apple on Friday said that explosions at two of its parts suppliers last year were caused by airborne aluminium dust created during the milling and polishing of products such as iMacs, MacBooks and iPads.

The company made the disclosure as part of its sixth annual “Supplier Responsibility Progress Report”, in which it also for the first time listed all of its major suppliers. The report covers issues such as worker safety, labour rights and environmental impact.

Explosions

The explosions took place at a Foxconn plant in Chengdu, China, in May and RiTeng Computer Accessory, subsidiary of Pegatron, in Shanghai in December. The Foxconn explosion killed four workers and injured 18, while the Pegatron incident injured between 59 and 61 workers.

Both explosions involved the presence of excessive aluminium dust, Apple said.

Dust explosions can take place in any enclosed environment where combustible dust is present in sufficient concentrations, along with an oxidant such as the atmosphere’s oxygen and an ignition source. Such explosions are commonly associated with coal, wood and magnesium dust, but can also involve substances such as flour or sugar dust or powdered metals.

Apple said in the report it worked with external auditors to evaluate all its suppliers who handle aluminium dust and that all but one of the suppliers have put measures into place to handle the issue.

The new measures include ventilation requirements, inspections of ventilation systems and banning the use of cleaning practices such as the use of compressed air that make more dust airborne. The unidentified supplier that hasn’t yet instituted the measures will remain closed until it does so, Apple said.

“We have established new requirements for handling combustible dust throughout our supply chain,” Apple said in the report.

Audits

Apple said its audits revealed that working limits had been exceeded at 93 of its supplier facilities, while 108 facilities didn’t pay legally required overtime and at 15 facilities foreign contract workers had paid excessive recruitment fees to labour agencies.

The company said that 229 audits had been conducted as part of this year’s report, up 80 percent over last year. Facilities where repeat audits had been carried out had shown fewer violations, Apple said.

“Apple is committed to driving the highest standards for social responsibility throughout our supply base,” Apple said in the report.

The explosions and other incidents will add to concern over labour conditions at Apple’s suppliers. The company commenced publishing its supplier responsibility report in 2006 after press reports revealed poor working conditions at Foxconn, where a number of workers have committed suicide or attempted suicide in recent years.

Mass suicide threat

Reports last week said that about 150 Foxconn workers threatened mass suicide over working conditions earlier in January. The workers in question were involved in assembling Microsoft’s Xbox 360 games console.

In last year’s supplier responsibility report Apple disclosed that 137 Chinese workers had been injured by a toxic chemical called n-hexane used in cleaning iPhone screens. The chemical reportedly left some workers with nerve damage.