Bangladesh is now the envy of many countries around the world because of its strong development gains in the recent years. Unfortunately though, millions of workers who are working relentlessly to make Bangladesh an economic success story continue to get a raw deal. Safe working conditions remain elusive for many of these workers. This unfortunate reality was reflected in the CPD study report titled “Industrial safety of non-RMG enterprises and workers monitoring transparency” unveiled on Thursday. According to the findings of the study since the tragic July 8 fire incident in Narayanganj last year, 82 different types of industrial accidents have been reported, which means almost one incidence every two days. The majority of these accidents are related to fire, which stood at 52, other accidents include electrical, boiler explosion and related issues. These accidents killed as many as 167 people and injured 256 others. Industrial safety in Bangladesh comes under intense scrutiny following each disaster. Although public outcry followed each trauma and tragedy, working conditions in the factories, more specifically the non RMG ones remains largely unchanged.
Bangladesh has a history of industrial disasters, including factories catching fire with workers locked inside. Lax enforcement of existing rules has resulted in numerous casualties over the years. Bangladesh’s regulatory framework and inspections have not been able to keep pace with the development of the industrial sector.
On a positive note, the RMG sector has got its act together and has become largely compliant, regarding safety issues, under domestic and global watchdogs. The loss of 1,136 lives when Rana Plaza collapsed on 24 April 2013 sent shockwaves throughout the world. Coming just months after the fatal fire at Tazreen Fashions in which 112 died it was clear that the Bangladesh Ready Made Garment (RMG) sector had reached a crucial juncture. After the Rana Plaza building collapse, the Accord, a platform of Europe-based retailers and brands, and the Alliance, the North America-based retailers and brands’ forum, were formed to fix the fire, electrical and structural loopholes in the garment factories in Bangladesh. Since then Bangladesh has made impressive strides in making workplace safe in the garment sector. No major incidents in garment factories have taken place since 2013 which indicates that safety issues have been addressed quite adequately in the sector.
Unfortunately the picture is murkier in the non-RMG sectors as stated the CPD study report. Factory accidents, mostly from fire, occur at almost regular intervals. If we want to stop such incidents from occurring anymore, strict fire and building safety measures must be imposed, with the help and oversight of law enforcement agencies. Fire extinguishers need to be provided on each floor of an industrial unit.
We are deeply concerned about the fact that increasing number of incidents are taking places due to lack of appropriate safety measures at workplaces, which not only claimed precious lives but also caused financial loss. It goes without saying that an accident takes place without any prior notice. But at workplaces all necessary precautions should be made for the protection of the workers from accident and death. In the recent past it has been seen that there is lack of adequate preventive measures and precaution against accidents in factories, shops and warehouses of chemicals and explosives. Steps should be taken to improve this situation. Moreover, arrangements should be made for sufficient compensations for the victims of industrial accidents. Many promises have been made to strengthen labour inspections in Bangladesh but this is not an issue that can be tackled without a public campaign led by the government. There is also a need to create awareness among masses about safety measures at workplaces and media should play its role in this regard. As Bangladesh continues the journey on its development path it is imperative that its workers are protected and provided safe working conditions. This could incentivise higher quality foreign investment, across a broader range of manufacturing, and lay the foundations for sustainable development in the years ahead.