The year 2017 was the deadliest for the workers, as at least 426 of them died at 321 workplace accidents across the country -- the highest in a single year compared to the number of deaths in the last 10 years, according to a report disclosed yesterday.
The second highest death toll was 388 in 2011. In 2016, it stood at 382, the report found.
In between 2008 and 2017, more than 3,611 workplace deaths were reported, except for the two fatal catastrophes -- Tazreen Fashions fire in 2012 and Rana Plaza collapse in 2013.
Including the 1,246 deaths in the two incidents, the total number has reached over 4,857 during the timeframe, the report added.
According to experts, the actual number of deaths was higher than the reported one, and the number could have been reduced if the authorities concerned had taken appropriate safety measures.
Safety and Rights Society (SRS), a non-government organisation that works on improving workplace safety, prepared the report through collecting reports of death incidents published in different news media in between January and December 2017.
SRS revealed the findings at a press conference at Dhaka Reporters' Unity.
Of the deaths last year, 144 workers (34 percent of the total deaths) died in accidents in the construction sector, and 102 workers (24 percent) in the transport sector. Besides, at least 96 workers died in the service sector, 76 in different factories and eight in the farming sector.
The report said the highest number of workers, about 117, died in road accidents, while 88 died from electrocution, 57 by falling. In addition, 30 died due to boiler explosions and 19 by inhaling toxic gas in septic tanks.
Most of the dead workers are below 40, and about 30 percent of them are aged in between 21 and 30, the report added.
The highest number of deaths, 101, was reported in Dhaka and then in Chittagong, Gazipur, Sylhet and Narayanganj.
The report also mentioned that the families of the victims did not get adequate compensations according to the labour law in most of the cases, which resulted in a gradual deterioration of their financial condition.
Trial proceedings of around 121 compensation cases are going on in different labour courts, said the report.
Along with the rising number of deaths in the workplace, strict repression of labour movement, unsafe work environment and bar on forming trade unions tarnish the image of the country in terms of upholding labour rights, the report observed.
Speaking at the press conference, SRS Executive Director Sekender Ali Mina said, “The report does not reflect the actual number of workplace deaths as many such incidents were not reported in the media.”
Ignorance of the employers and a lack of caution among the workers were responsible for recurring deaths like electrocution and suffocation inside septic tanks, he added. Those could have been avoided.
Poorly-made scaffolds, unauthorised boilers, inadequate fire equipment at workplace, and negligence in following traffic rules were some of the reasons behind the death of workers.
He also said the workers have been victimised, as they were not provided with protective gears during work.
To overcome the situation, the report recommended that the government must strengthen its workplace monitoring mechanism and continue it on a regular basis.
In addition, the government should strengthen the concerned bodies such as Rajuk and the Department of Inspection for Factories and Establishments for the monitoring.The report also recommended implementing the national building code properly. Also, those responsible for the death incidents should be punished. Laws should be amended to provide compensation for the victims' families. In addition, workers should be given training on safety.
It also urged the owners to form a safety committee as per the labour law, and develop an internal safety policy and mechanism.Like the garment factories, the government has to increase safety activities in other sectors to reduce the death incidents.Bangladesh Institute of Labour Studies (BILS) Executive Director Syed Sultan Uddin Ahmed said, “The rising number of the workers death is very alarming and a matter of concern…"
”The government activities in taking action against the death incidents have reduced alarmingly while protest from civil society and rights organisations has lost momentum, which is also a matter of concern, he said.
“As punishment for the workers' death is not strictly implemented as well as compensation for the families is very low, the employers do not care much about the death incidents. Thus, such accidents are increasing gradually,” he told The Daily Star.
SRS Chairperson Khushi Kabir; Bangladesh Legal Aid and Services Trust (BLAST) Honorary Executive Director Barrister Sara Hossain; and Bangladesh Trade Union Centre General Secretary Wajedul Islam Khan, also spoke.