Occupational safety of most of Bangladesh's workers is not even talked about let alone ensured, speakers said on the second day of a three-day international conference in the capital yesterday.
Around 80 percent of Bangladesh's labour force is engaged in the construction sector with virtually no safety measures, said Chowdhury Mufad Ahmed, a joint secretary and director of the labour skill development project of the government.
Bangladesh National Building Code (BNBC), containing some considerable provisions for labour safety in the sector, is rarely followed, resulting in frequent accidents, most of which go unreported, he said.
Dhaka Community Hospital Trust jointly with Collegium Ramazzini and Harvard School of Public Health organised the conference on occupational safety in Bangladesh's garment, tannery and construction industries.
“I have been hearing demands for relocation of the Hazaribagh tanneries since 1988 over environmental concerns,” said Chowdhury, “But I have hardly heard any concern for health safety of the labourers who are exposed to a silent death.”
Massive safety lapses and helplessness of readymade garments workers recurrently come to light following accidents like the Rana Plaza collapse and Tazreen factory fire, he said.
Though this sector brought phenomenal economic leaps in the lives of the factory owners, it contributed to women emancipation to a certain degree with a minimal economic empowerment and independence, he said.
Eighty percent of Bangladesh's 4.5 million readymade garment (RMG) workers are women while the country is the world's second largest garment exporter with $21.5 billion in earnings in the fiscal year.
In 1985, the wealthiest five percent of Bangladesh's population owned 1.8 percent of the nation's wealth and it increased to 25 percent by the year 2010. Meanwhile, the poorest five percent owned only 0.8 percent by 2008, said Chowdhury referring to economic disparity.
Mahbub Jamil, former adviser to a caretaker government, said, “We should support our workers who have made what we are today.”
The RMG sector occupies public attention most of the time due to massive accidents leaving occupational safety concern for workers in construction, pharmaceuticals, ship building and chemical industries in oblivion, he said.
Prof h. c. D. I. Karl-Heinz Noetel, vice president of Germany-based International Social Security Association, and Quazi Quamruzzaman, chairman of Dhaka Community Hospital Trust, also spoke.