Opinion: Mountain B Pub Fire: Why Safety Culture Is Abysmally Low in Thailand

Soldiers stand guard in front of Mountain B pub in the Sattahip district of Chonburi province on Aug. 5, 2022.
Soldiers stand guard in front of Mountain B pub in the Sattahip district of Chonburi province on Aug. 5, 2022.

The man-made Mountain B pub fire tragedy which led to at least 15 deaths and dozens of injuries was basically preventable. Police confirmed hours after the fire that one exit door was locked, the operator had no license to operate a pub, the place used inflammable acoustic foam panels and more.

Such tragedy is more about why it kept occurring than what to do – the latter should be more of a common sense.

Before this writer goes into speculating of the why, let’s note what more do we know so far about the preventable tragedy, where disturbing footages showed the more fortunate one rehashing out of the now completely-burnt down pubs with fire on their bodies – something too disturbing to share a link here.

Assistant police commissioner Pol. Lt. Gen. Sompong Chingduang said on Friday after initial investigation on the fire that at least on exit door was locked when the fire broke out after 1am in Chonburi province. He said it is unclear how many exit doors existed and how many of them were locked.

What’s more, additional construction was also added without permission. Only two fire extinguishers were found inside the establishment, which was almost completely burnt down.

Back on July 16, local police visited the place after having received a complaint of noise. Parts of the building were covered with highly inflammable acoustic foam panels.

Imagine if the pub did not lock that one exit door (or possibly more), the death toll would have been considerably lower. Imagine if they were more careful and refrain from using highly inflammable acoustic foam panels which simply supercharged the spread of the fire, imagine if police and related government agencies routinely and dutifully inspect the pub and others, imagine how many lives would have been spared.

Here are four factors why I think the concept of safety is abysmally low in Thailand.

First, profits and corruption trump all else. From the short-term myopic profit-making point of view, it is easier to control possible unauthorized entrance into the pub by locking its rear exit. If the pub operator did not lock it, they would have to hire at least another security staff to man the exit if not more.

A singer at the burnt-down pub said the pub always locked the two rear exit doors in fear of customers leaving without paying. Apparently, it was a fatal cost-cutting strategy.

Thanapat “Peach” Puangpae, 24, told reporters on Saturday after laying flowers for the deceased that he always entered the pub from one of the backdoors and a guard would come to unlock it and then lock it again after the musicians entered.

He admitted he did not think such tragedy would occur. On the other hand, government officials have failed to ensure that these exits are not locked, and it is possible that they turned a blind eye due to corruption.

Second, carelessness, or this may happen to others but not us mentality. Would the owner have done differently, not locking the exit doors, chose fire retardant acoustic foam, and more if they are aware that the risk of a tragedy is high? Probably yes, but again, they probably think the risk is low and it would not happen to them.

Third, other people’s lives are less important than that of yours and your family. The pub owner and operator would possibly subject their families to such a low safety standard.

Last but not least, all these factors (and possibly more) combined means safety is an alien concept for many Thais. A similar incident occurred back in 2009 in Bangkok at Zantika Pub in Ekkamai where 69 died. Apparently, it is all but forgotten with little or no lesson learned.