RMG fire safety largely ignored

15 fire service teams begin countrywide inspection to find out ill-equipped factories

Four days into the Tazreen Fashions disaster, Noorjahan Begum is yet to give up hope of finding her missing brother Sabuj, a worker of the garment factory. She wails at the gate of the burnt-down building, demanding that her brother be brought back to her. The photo was taken yesterday.

The government yesterday launched a nationwide drive to identify readymade garment factories with dismal safety system, five days into the nation’s deadliest industrial blaze in Ashulia.

Fifteen teams from fire service inspected 73 garment factories in Ashulia and found that one-third of the factories did not have sufficient fire safety measures and security for workers.

The issue of workers’ safety in factories has come up strongly following the devastating fire that killed at least 111 workers at Tazreen Fashions in Ashulia on November 24.

It was found that the factory neither had any emergency exits nor adequate fire safety measures. And fire-fighting equipment on its different floors had not been used during the fire accident.

Moreover, the eight-storey factory had the permission to have only three floors.

The teams comprised of 70 officials would inspect as many factories as possible between November 29 and December 2, said M Abdus Salam, director of Fire Service and Civil Defence (administration and finance), who led the drive with the help of police.

He said they would submit a report to the home ministry on Monday with recommendations for taking punitive measures against factories with dismal safety system.

Salam said they might recommend cancellation of fire service licence of noncompliant factories.

The fire service will then send mobile courts led by executive magistrates to noncompliant factories to penalise them for their failure to ensure workers’ safety.

Salam said they did not find any factory without fire safety system, but many of the factories did not fully comply with the directives of fire service.

Those factories did not organise monthly fire drill or arrange training for workers and staff. Fire extinguishers were not even refilled in many factories, he said.

The 15 teams are asked to inspect at least five factories a day.

During the drive, they checked whether the factories had adequate fire-fighting equipment, emergency fire exits and evacuation arrangements, and if they trained workers to tackle fire incidents.

Salam said his team inspected five factories in Zirabo and found that two factories — Shapr Dyeing and Printing Industries Ltd and Loresk Fashions Ltd — did not have adequate fire-fighting equipment.

The validity of fire-fighting equipment at the two factories had expired and the workers had not been given training to use them, he said.

Sources said the owners and officials of the two apparel plants had fled their factories sensing the presence of the inspection team.

“We did not find them in their factories,” said Salam.

Mokter Hossain, deputy director of the Industrial Police in Ashulia, said they accompanied the fire service teams to the factories.

In the meantime, a committee probing Saturday’s fire incident found that Abdur Razzak, production manager at Tazreen Fashions, had been the main culprit for so many deaths in the deadly blaze.

“Though the fire alarm went off, the production manager did not allow the workers to get out of the factory,” said Salam, also member of the probe committee formed by the home ministry.

In their statements, the survivors of the fire alleged that Razzak had misled the workers saying it was a regular drill, not a fire incident.

“As a result, the workers could not get out on time and got trapped in the fire,” said Salam.

He also said the team was yet to talk to the factory owner and officials, as they were not available.

Also, the labour and employment ministry had moved to form a taskforce to supervise safety measures in garment factories, labour secretary Mikail Shipar told a parliamentary body.

“The taskforce will be composed of representatives from the government, garment owners and workers and headed by the minister or the state minister,” Mikail told reporters after a meeting of the parliamentary standing committee on the labour and employment ministry.

He said the taskforce would visit at least 20 factories every month to see if the plants were complying with safety regulations.

The labour secretary also said the labour directorate on November 27 filed cases with labour courts against Delowar Hossain, managing director of Tazreen Fashions.

“The owner simply cannot shirk his responsibility,” Mikail said.

Israfil Alam, chief of the parliamentary body, told reporters that the committee had recommended stern actions against those responsible for the deadly fire.

The lawmaker said the committee did not want to make any comments pointing fingers to any people. “It is under investigation and we believe the truth will come out through investigation.”

Meeting sources said the committee members were annoyed by the absence of Labour Minister Rajiuddin Ahmed Raju and State Minister Monnujan Sufian.

AHM Anwar Pasha, executive magistrate of Dhaka district, said if a factory does not have any fire-fighting equipment then its owner could be sent to jail for six months to three years along with fines under the Prevention and Extinguishment of Fire Act 2003.

If a factory with fire-fighting gears fails to use the equipment in case of fire its owner will face jail up to six months along with fine, Anwar Pasha told The Daily Star.

Queried about his department’s failure to inspect every factory seeking renewal of fire licence, fire service Director Abdus Salam said, “It’s not possible for our officials to ensure proper inspection at every factory during renewal of fire licence, as the number of inspectors is very poor compared to that of factories.”

Five days into the deadly fire at Tazreen Fashions, the garment makers yesterday decided to form a high-powered committee to ensure upgrade of fire safety apparatus at RMG production units.

Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association said it would soon form a taskforce and set a time limit for the garment owners to upgrade fire safety measures at their factories.

“If the owners do not upgrade fire safety measures, the taskforce will shut down their plants,” BGMEA President Shafiul Islam Mohiuddin said.

Meanwhile, some 300 people among who were university students, journalists and artists joined a protest outside the BGMEA building in the city’s Karwan Bazar yesterday to demand justice for the victims of the fire incident.

Source: The Daily Star

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