Poor Ideas In Public Safety: Foxconn Edition

Yes, Foxconn is actually building some type of manufacturing facility in Racine County in Wisconsin. But they don’t seem to fully appreciate the building safety laws that we’ve all come to expect. What do I mean? Sprinkler systems in buildings. Something that we all take for granted in modern buildings. Something that we all expect to keep us safe in the event of a fire. Something that modern building codes require. Unless of course you are Foxconn.

Foxconn Technology Group wants permission to omit sprinkler protection in part of its factory — the second fire-related code variance the company has sought.

A consultant’s report, prepared for Foxconn’s construction management team and included in a group of planning documents released last week by a state agency, says sprinklers can safely be omitted in the factory’s “stocker” areas if certain recommendations are followed.

Foxconn has asked for a code variance allowing it to omit the sprinklers, a spokeswoman for the Wisconsin Department of Safety and Professional Services said Tuesday. The request is still pending, she said.

It is at least the second fire-code variance Foxconn has sought as it builds a nearly 1 million-square-foot flat-screen plant in Mount Pleasant.

The company earlier asked that it not be required to treat steel in the factory’s roof with fire-resistant coatings. The state granted that request in September.

No. Hell No. And Fuck Hell No. If people are working in and around these “stocker” areas, they need to be protected in the event of a fire. This should be completely non-negotiable. Human life is too valuable to risk just to save a company some money. This is Wisconsin and not China.

But why oh why would Foxconn think this is a good idea (other than getting to build a cheaper building)?

“The combustible content in stockers is very low,” the Jensen Hughes report says. It says the burnable material is mainly limited to electrical components that power the stockers’ robots, and a small amount of plastic.

Even without sprinklers, employees would have time to evacuate safely from the “worst-credible fire” in the stockers, and the fire would not endanger the structure, Jensen Hughes said.

You know…it seems to me that electrical fires and plastic fires can be pretty intense and extremely problematic. I don’t care if they think employees would have time to evacuate…that’s a best case scenario…sprinklers are there for the worst. Doesn’t seem that risking life is worth a few dollars. But then there’s this:

On the other hand, the firm said, accidental discharge of the sprinklers could cause “severe product loss” and interruption to factory operations, the consultant said.

No shit? You think? Yes, certainly. If a sprinkler system accidentally discharged it could cause “severe product loss”, damage to other infrastructure and incidentals of course, and an interruption to factory operations. It is exactly the same for every other business in America. Any and all of them would probably suffer significant losses in accidental discharges from sprinkler systems. If this were a valid reason for not installing them, there wouldn’t be a sprinkler system in the world. But they aren’t there to protect the inventory…although in some cases they do serve that purpose as well…they are there to protect human lives. Precisely.

Now…on the other hand…has America or even Wisconsin had a rash of accidental sprinkler discharges that I am not aware of? The technology seems pretty mature and reliable in contemporary use. Or is Foxconn only aware of the cheapest of the cheap versions that don’t work?


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