Safety in non-RMG factories on the wane
Industrial safety in the non-garment sector has been deteriorating day by day, said the Centre for Policy Dialogue (CPD) yesterday.
This is due to a lack of safety measures with regard to structural, fire and electrical issues due to lax monitoring and enforcement of different compliance standards by different public agencies, it said.
"There are weaknesses in safety related laws, rules and acts concerning fire, electrical, structural, boiler and environmental issues," said Khondaker Golam Moazzem, research director at the CPD.
Besides, factory owners and managements have limited interest in investing in safety measures.
Workers are not fully aware about safety concerns and most non-garment factories lack safety committees.
They do not even face any pressure from stakeholders, including consumers, workers, and civil society organisations, to ensure compliance standards, he added.
"Meagre punitive measures under different laws, rules, acts -- Boiler Act 1923, Explosive Act 1884 -- made those in factory management reluctant to undertake proper compliance measures," he said.
Moazzem made these comments while presenting a paper on industrial safety in non-garment enterprises.
He also spoke of monitoring transparency, accountability and efficiency of public actions at a media briefing on "Fire Incidents in Workplaces and Workers Safety: Where are Corrective Actions?" organised by the think tank.
Industrial safety in non-garment enterprises is almost an unaddressed issue, and the rapid rise of industrial accidents in recent years has further deteriorated the situation.
A fire at a food processing factory in Narayanganj, which killed over 52 workers and injured more than 50 workers, has highlighted safety concerns in non-garment enterprises, he said.
Since the fire occurred in Narayanganj on July 8, 2021, a total of 82 types of accidents have been reported in national dailies -- almost one incident in every two days.
A majority of these accidents are related to fire (52 accidents) while others were over electrical, boiler explosion and related issues, killing 167 and injuring 256 others.
The majority of deaths and injuries were caused by fire related accidents, according to the presentation.
Dhaka and nearby areas, also major industrial zones, are the most vulnerable to accidents with 29 incidents, followed by Narayanganj, Gazipur and Chattogram with eight incidents each.
Rigorous industrial safety measures are now of critical importance for the reduction of accidents and casualties.
The required measures would be similar to those that had been implemented in the garment sector after the Rana Plaza tragedy.
Moazzem highlighted that undertaking remedial measures in non-garment factories was a complex issue since most non-garment sectors operate within the domestic supply chain unlike the garment sector operated in the global value chain.
"These domestic supply chains often do not properly follow a code of conduct on workplace safety and workers' rights. In addition to that, enforcement of industrial safety in developing countries is a challenging task," Moazzem said.
The reasons -- enterprises lack willingness in investing for safety measures, weak governance structure and limited monitoring and enforcement capacity of public agencies; and a lack of pressure from buyers and consumers.
An initiative for industrial safety measures under the coordination of Bangladesh Investment Development Authority (Bida) was taken up immediately after the Hashem Food tragedy.
A 24-member committee, chaired by the prime minister's private industry and investment adviser, was formed to detect safety risks and issue required directions to responsible agencies for taking appropriate actions.
Bida subsequently formed another nine-member sub-committee which developed a standard operating procedure for a "combined inspection".
It aimed to inspect around 42,000 non-garment factories across the country through 108 inspection teams comprising officials of different public and private entities.
It set a target to inspect a total of 5,000 factories in three months -- October to December -- in 2021.
However, the progress of inspection was not satisfactory. Only 875 factories were inspected as of January 10 this year, or just 17.5 per cent of the total target.
"The Bida-led initiative to identify the safety concerns of a sample set of factories is a positive initiative…," Moazzem said.
"…but it has yet to deliver the expected outcome due to a lack of leadership, problem of coordination, limited capacity to handle the data for identifying the problems and limited technical expertise," he said.
Database management is likely to be a major challenge, particularly to deliver overall and factory-specific challenges and recommendations.
Bida should develop a common digital platform to store data, disclose the data and publish the inspection progress every quarter, half year or year.
It is important for Bida to invite International Labour Organization in the implementation process given the organisation's long experience of working on industrial safety related issues, he added.