The government inspection system for factory boilers is meant to fail by design, hence boiler explosions have been claiming lives all too frequently.
For the 5,000 odd authorised boilers in the country, there are six inspectors designated to examine them once a year.
It usually takes an inspector a day to complete inspection of a single boiler, which means, with best of their efforts and no day-offs, it would take them 840 days to complete one round of inspections. And that is not taking into account about 20,000 more boilers that are unauthorised.
To make matters worse, the boilers are operated by people who get no official training.
A boiler is a closed tank in which water is heated. The main function of it is to generate steam for space heating, sterilisation, drying, humidification and power generation.
Boilers were used in the garments industry, auto-rice mills, power plants, paper mills, sugar mills, jute mills, pharmaceutical factories, sea-food processing industry, high-ended hotels, tannery industry and edible oil industry.
And the government's lack of inspection capabilities of this widely used equipment is evident in the string of fatal accidents.
At least 17 lives were lost in three incidents of boiler blasts this year. Thirteen of them died in a single incident in Dinajpur.
The Office of the Chief Inspector of Boilers, a government agency under the industries ministry, comprises one chief inspector, three deputy chief inspectors and only six inspectors -- three in Dhaka, two in Chittagong and the other one for Khulna, Rajshahi and Rangpur regions.
Chief Inspector Mohammad Abdul Mannan told The Daily Star yesterday that, “Physically inspecting all the boilers is impossible. It takes a day to inspect a boiler properly. We have asked the industries ministry for more manpower.”
He said apart from the manpower crisis, there was a lack of training institutions for boiler operators.
Usually a boiler lasts 30 years but it largely depends on how it is handled. Mishandling could result in damage to the boiler, significant reduction of its lifespan, and explosion.
The reasons for explosions of boilers include faulty pressure relief valves that releases extra steam pressure, drop of water level below, operational errors, and if the pressure parts of the boils became weak, said officials.
An explosion could bring down the building it is housed in.
Officials said due to the lack of training of boiler operators, they often mishandle the equipment. Most operators learn the operations on the job.
Chief Inspector Mannan said if all boilers were authorised through proper inspection and were well managed by trained operators, the risk factors would largely diminish.
About illegal boilers, he said, “It is not possible for us to identify the illegal boilers as we cannot even inspect all the registered ones.”
He said the organogram of the office of chief inspector of boilers was prepared in 2010 after an eight-year exercise. But against a sanctioned post number of 30, there were only 21 staffers.
AKM Monjur Morshed, associate professor of Department of Mechanical Engineering at the Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology (Buet), said the quality of boilers in Bangladesh was good as most of them were from renowned brands.
“But the problem is, there is a serious lack of efficient and skilled boiler operators in the country. Secondly, there is a serious lack of inspection of boilers,” he said.
Morshed said there is no institution to build efficient and skilled manpower in this sector.
Anwarul Islam represents the Dinajpur chamber of commerce. He said, “Most mills in the district do not have skilled boiler operators."