Scant regard for workers’ safety: whatever happened to worker’s safety laws and regulations?

The Daily Star  October 05, 2020

A picture published in yesterday’s paper—which shows a group of workers employed in the demolition work of the BGMEA building—speaks a thousand words. They have no personal safety gear whatsoever, nor are there any visible signs of safety measures for the workplace. This picture is not unique—similar scenes can be seen in any number of construction sites, with very few exceptions, all over the country.

The picture narrates most vividly how cheap the life of a daily labourer is, and how dispensable they are, because they would do anything hazardous just so that they can put some food in the mouth of their family members who eagerly await their return. Some unlucky ones do not return, given the conditions they are compelled to work in.

The picture also speaks volumes about the utter disregard for the laws, rules and regulations related to labour which, among other things, obligate the employer to provide a safe and secure environment for the workers. It also speaks of the absence of oversight by the relevant government agencies that have the authority to penalise the errant employers, contractors and building owners.

Workplace safety has been a great concern for us. With rapid growth in our economy, more and more workers are joining the workforce, particularly in the infrastructure sector. There are labour laws and ILP conventions that regulate their work and employment. The building code also specifies the safety measures that the construction companies must provide, both personal and otherwise. But as with so many laws and regulations, our labour laws are observed in their violations only. The construction sector is the worst off in this case.

According to the Bangladesh Occupational Safety, Health, and Environment Foundation, in 2019, 945 workers lost their lives and 266 sustained injuries at their workplaces in various sectors in the country. Of those killed, 156 were construction workers. The number of deaths is nearly a hundred more in 2018. The labour ministry and other relevant agencies and authorities and the labour organisations must address this hazard with due diligence to save more lives being lost in workplaces.