Bangladesh Institute of Labour Studies (BILS) and The Daily Star organised a roundtable on “Safe workplace: Recent experience and way forward" on July13, 2013. We publish a summary of the discussions.
Nazrul Islam Khan, Secretary General, BILS
The recent collapse of Rana Plaza and previous incidents of fire at Tazreen Fashions and Smart Fashions have brought our country to the attention of the world.
However, the immediate effect of the recent US decision on suspension of GSP facilities is not very serious but in the future, it can go beyond our imagination. We should now work for safe working place. Right to trade union for the workers is must. We have laws but the main problem is lack of implementation. Trade unions can play a great role at this implementation phase. We should create conducive environment for building strong trade unions abiding by existing laws.
A M M Safiullah, VC, Ahsanullah University of Science and Technology
The risk of building collapse is common to all types of buildings. In city areas, we often find failure of shore piling, which critically affects the basement of high-rise building as well as its adjacent buildings.
Bangladesh National Building Code 1993, though it is not a complete document, defines the minimum standards for different aspects of construction of a building such as design, construction, quality of materials, user occupancy, location maintenance, fire exits, water supply and other basics, with the objective of public safety. Different types of building requires different standard and negligence in maintaining this standard is a punishable offence.
There is a dearth of suitable land for building construction. In an unsuitable land, we have to particularly ensure proper layout plans, ground investigation and load distribution plans. We should define soil standards, and registered soil investigators should be appointed to ensure this standard.
Major Mohammad Mahboob, Director (Operation), Bangladesh Fire Service and Civil Defense
I would like to share some recent experiences regarding incidents of fire.. In 2012, at Tazreen Fashions, 212 workers died in a fire.. The main reason behind this high number of deaths was that the factory owner was using the three evacuation routes of the building as storerooms. But the design they had submitted for registration showed that there were three evacuation routes.
Unplanned transportation system is making the situation worse since this makes it impossible for the fire service vehicles to reach the spot quickly.
We have submitted classified reports on these accidents to the ministries to take necessary steps. We should make it mandatory for the owners to collect an occupational certificate after the building is fully ready. And other utility facilities like gas and electricity should be given based on this occupational certificate.
Selim Newaj Bhuiyan, Deputy Director (Retd.), Bangladesh Fire Service and Civil Defense
The main cause of death during a fire is suffocation. In many garment factories they make holes in every floor through which they throw down their materials to the store room situated at the ground floor. When there is fire at any of the floors, smoke spread through the whole building at a higher pace through these holes.
Factory buildings should keep mandatory fire protective doors at the entrance point of every floor to prevent the spread of smoke. These fire resistant doors should have the arrangement to be opened from both sides, in and out.
We should use portable lights in store rooms rather than electric bulbs.
Architect Akhil Akhter Chowdhury, Managing Director, Shuchana Development Ltd.
The main cause behind all the major collapse incidents is unplanned building construction. It is the duty of an architect to design an industrial building following the existing building code. At the design phase, many technical personnel are involved with the architect. Despite a sincere and highly sophisticated design, insincerity of the entrepreneur can make the construction vulnerable.
We have to follow ZAP or zero accident policy to ensure safety. We should stop building industrial constructions at unplanned locations. We have to plan for safe and environment friendly industrial city which is our duty as an entrepreneur.
Shaheen Anam, Executive Director, Manusher Jonno Foundation
Violation of human rights and lack of good governance practices are very common in Bangladesh. Mis-governance is one of the key factors behind accidents in factories.
We have a few inspectors for the inspection of huge number of garment industries. Our fire safety system is not strong enough. Labour Law 2006 is too weak to protect worker's safety as well as rights.
We have to change the mentality of the garment owners. Whenever we tried to protect the workers right strongly we were accused of destroying our industries and damaging our impression to the foreign countries. But now what is the condition of our impression? If we had considered those suggestions and submissions, this situation would have never been raised.
Dr. Salamat Khandaker, Senior National Consultant, WHO
In Germany, pre-medical test is mandatory for all sorts of professional employment. They do this check- up periodically to make sure whether any sort of disease develops due to particular risk factors related to this profession. But the situation in our country is quite opposite. Our workers do not even get their appointment letters properly.
We have conducted researches on garment sector which shows that although personal protection equipment (PPE) is available, the workers are not using these. One clear recommendation is to make the use of PPE obligatory for the workers.
We need a national institute of operational health and safety. We have to build a record keeping system for occupational diseases.
Engineer M. Hafizur Rahman, Vice Chairman, Occupational Safety Board of Bangladesh, IEB
There is a programme called HazCom that means hazard communication. Workers of a factory have all the rights to know about what types of chemicals have been used in the factory. Chemical manufacturers have to determine the chemical hazards, provide labels and material safety data sheet. It is mandatory for an exporter of chemicals to give full information about the chemicals. An employer has to train his employees on how to handle the chemicals and provide personal protective equipments.
Arthur Shears, Officer in Charge, ILO
Bangladesh government has passed the National Skill Development Policy. It is one way of promoting skill development among the workers. And part of this skill is related with the development of company's standard. There is an arrangement for providing comprehensive training to workers, and in the training, we should put special focus on occupational health and safety as a generic skill across every training programme.
We can look at the safety issue in many different ways. We have to promote safety, and promoting safety improves productivity.
The ILO wants an effective implementation of tripartite National Plan of Action on Fire and Safety. We are looking forward to the adoption of National Occupational Health and Safety Policy. If we seriously work for a safe a work place we can achieve it.
Engineer Md. Sarwar Kabir, Industrial Auditor, MSD Global Compliance
We have to improve electrical safety to improve overall fire and building safety. This should be considered as an integral part of the safety plan.
In many factories, vulnerable wirings are found on the ground, insulation capacity of which can be damaged by careless movement over this. It can cause fire through short circuit. We also find improper wiring. We have to cover up live parts of a high voltage line. Sometimes we use wood board to cover up which is also a flammable substance. This should be seriously checked.
Abdur Razaque Khan, Senior Advocate, Bangladesh Supreme Court
Labour department is a very important office but you would not find it easily. If you ask people about it,they will say it is at the Dainik Bangla square. We need to find an easily accessible area for the labour department rather than the present crowded one.
In case of violation of labour laws, the victim has to seek permission from the Chief Inspector of Factories to lodge a case. This provision should be removed. And if it has to remain, then the authorities should take the least possible time.
Immediately, we need to frame chapter wise factory rules under the Labour Act 2006. We do not need to rush for doing all the rules at once. Go steadily and do properly.
Md. Nesar Ahmed, President, Labour Court and Advocate, Bangladesh Supreme Court
In our Constitution, there is clear guidance about safety. But we do not abide by our constitution. We are just running after profits.
In Labour Law 2006 there are 21 chapters. In these chapters there are specific rules for condition of service, maternity benefit and safety, especially from health hazards. In chapter 20 there is clear provision for factory inspectors to look after these issues. In the last chapter, it is clearly mentioned what standards should be maintained before setting up a factory. But we do not abide by the rules.
We do not have a de facto industrial policy, industrial safety rules, factory rules and labour law. Without effective policies nothing can be changed.
We have to create wider scope for forming trade union. Without pressure from the labours, nothing can be changed. Our labour courts have to be free from corruption and laxity. If judicial sector does not function effectively no one would get justice.
A.K.M Nasim, Senior Legal Counselor, Americal Centre for International Labour Solidarity
Government inspectors do not get any legal counselor, so the legal documents drafted by them are very poor. It weakens the case. Therefore, we demand immediate arrangement for legal counselors for the inspection department.
There should be obligatory rules to resolve a case within a fixed period otherwise it often happens that cases are left for years and the perpetrators remain free to commit crimes repeatedly.
A year ago, Fire Service Department gave a clear directive not to build any unauthorized structure at the top floor. But BGMEA managed to get a relaxation of the rule for using such structure as prayer room and canteen purpose. Now it happens that they use the space as storeroom. Therefore, the directive of Fire Service Department should be immediately implemented.
Khondaker Mostan Hossain, Deputy Secretary, Ministry of Labour and Employment
After Tazreen accident, we prepared a National Tripartite Plan of Action on Fire Safety and Structural Integrity in RMG Sector in Bangladesh with the assistance of ILO. And after Rana Plaza accident we have decided to include building safety in that plan. In this national plan, we focused on three areas: policy and legislation, administration and activity. It is a time bound policy.
In the policy part, we have drafted National Occupational Health and Safety Policy. Now we are at the finalization stage.
In the legislation part, we have completed all preparation to amend the Labour Law 2006. It will be passed by the parliament soon.
In the administrative part, we are committed to recruit 200 inspectors by December, 2013.
Dr. Wajed ul Islam Khan, General Secretary, BTUC
We need an industrial building code. Industrial buildings should not be more than two-storied.
Only inspectors cannot ensure safety. We need a high power tripartite committee including government, workers and owners to do independent investigation of industrial buildings.
Faruk Ahmed, Secretary General, Bangladesh Employer's Federation
We have been repeatedly talking about introduction of trade unions in private industries even in EPZs. But there is a concern that trade unions often mingle with politics and hampers production. Therefore, owners, naturally, do not want trade union fearing loss of investment.
We want cooperation from all stake holders. We should get rid of blame gaming but rather join hands to overcome the current crisis. We have to sacrifice for greater national interest.
Roy Romesh Chandra, Secretary General, Industriall Bangladesh Council
First, I want to emphasise on three points: descent work place, living wage and fundamental rights to freedom of association. One cannot bargain over these issues. The government and owners must ensure these. If our country wants to get benefit in global market, we have to ensure international labour standards.
We have introduced an accord for worker's safety and asked global brands to sign this accord. So far we got very good response. There are three basic points in this accord: companies sourcing from Bangladesh have corporate social responsibility and they have to contribute financially considering the company's condition for improving infrastructure; arranging independent credible inspection using both national and international expertise; and brands have to continue long time business in this country.
Brands have to use their commercials influences to ensure worker's rights. If any brand fails to keep this accord, the trade union has all the rights to file a case against the brand in their own country as per their own law.
Md. Manjur Morshed, Senior Adviser, giz
About 2.5 million dollar is approved by German government for rehabilitation and job integration of disabled workers in these accidents. This is being given under a bilateral agreement between the two governments of Bangladesh and Germany. We are also trying to ensure health insurance for garments workers.
We have discussed different points of the fire and building safety issues from different angles. A uniform inspection checklist should be made incorporating these different aspects. It will be effective, reasonable and acceptable.
Shah Md. Abu Zafar, President, BLF, Adviser, BILS
Here the government and factory owners work hand in hand. Labour organizations repeatedly asked government to enforce labour laws according the ILO provisions. But the government does not pay heed to any of the concerns.
The Government plans to recruit factory inspectors. We need officers who have knowledge about factory safety issues.
Moshiur Khandaker, Executive Director, Safety Assistance for Emergency (SAFE)
The government is preparing a Standing Order for Disaster (SOD) for natural disaster. Manmade disasters and building collapse incidents should be included in it as separate categories. SOD is very important for rescue operation especially for buildings. In Rana Plaza incident, it took three days to coordinate different efforts in the absence of a SOD.
We have to also consider the worst situation of supply chain of garment industries. If any accident happens in the supply chain, it will have serious repercussions in the garment sector.
Recently we have found several incidents of health disasters, due to lack of safe water and quality food in factories. We have to address this issue seriously.
We should use SMART technology for updating databases so that we can track number of workers getting in or out from a factory at any given time.
Dr. Manzur Kadir, Coordinator, Gonoshyashta Kendro
We should also talk about the safety of workers' residence. We found this unhealthy and unhygienic. Recently we came to know that prevalence of tuberculosis is increasing in jail and factories. This is a serious concern. When we talk about Garment Palli we should include workers' living arrangement there. Hospitals should be set up in garment areas. Garment workers need regular check up because they are under constant risk of health hazards.
Dr. Md. Monjur Hossain, Professor, Department of Civil Engineering, AUST
Fire drills should not be a seasonal matter. We should arrange fire drills in every factories and educational institutions on a regular basis.
We should form a panel of experts from different sectors to carry out crash programmes on building safety. Third party inspection should be made mandatory.
Our factories should go for steel structure. It is easier and cheaper.
Shirin Akhter, Vice - Chairperson, BILS & Chairperson of the Roundtable
We all want a prosperous Bangladesh. It cannot be attained leaving behind our labour force. We have no time to waste. In Geneva we have made a commitment. In Bangladesh we have commitment to our workers. So government, owners and workers should join hand to ensure safe workplace.
Ensure enforcement of Labour Laws, building code, electrical safety, Fire Safety Act and Environment Act. Frame a common safety guidelines in line with those laws and codes and international standards, especially ILO Convention 155 and other protocols.
Establish interlink and coordination between the authorities and departments such as Labour Inspection, RAJUK, Fire Brigade and Civil Defence. Provision for obtaining occupational certificate after the building is fully completed and other utility facilities, like gas and electricity, should be provided based on this occupational certificate.
In an unsuitable land, we have to particularly ensure proper layout plans, ground investigation and load distribution plans. We should define soil standards and registered soil investigators should be appointed to ensure this.
Factory inspection mechanism should be strengthened and upgraded with proper human resource and equipment. This department should be accountable to a tripartite body such as National Industrial Health and Safety Council. Position of Public Prosecutor in the Labour Court should be created.
Make clustering of factories for fire fighting. Build water reservoir, common fire fighting vehicle for quick action in case of fire. Factory buildings should keep mandatory fire protective doors at the entrance point of every floor to prevent the spread of smoke, and ensure fire resistant doors can be opened from both sides, in and out.
Manmade disasters and building collapse incidents should be included as separate categories in the Standing Order for Disaster (SOD), being prepared by the government for natural disaster.
Formation of 'safety committee' should be mandatory with proper workers participation; this committee should be given adequate authority to assess and recommend improvement, informed other authorities if owner does not act and ask the workers to stop work.
Responsibility of the owner should be distinctly mentioned in the labour law and provision of appropiate punishment clause for negligence needs to be included in the labour law. Persons responsible for past disasters must be brought to justice including Rana Plaza, Tazreen Fashion, and Smart Garments.
Adequate compensation should be ensured by amending the labour law. The present amount of compensation must be increased as per some recent High Court verdicts. Compensation should be legally binding obligation of the owners and must not be amalgamated with charity support. Compensation should be calculated on the basis of ILO Convention 121 and Fatal Accident Law 1855. Worker health damage due to occupational diseases should be compensated like accidents. Social insurance need to be introduced to cover the informal sector workers, day labourers etc.
A National Institute for OHS should be established and kept operational to create regular survey and build data base of occupational hazards, risk, disease and accidents. This institute should arrange training of professionals, safety committee members, and managerial staffs on regular basis.
All personal protection equipment (PPE) should be available and workers should be motivated to use these.
National Industrial Health and Safety Council formed under the article of 323 of Labour Act 2006 should be functional.
Overall improvement of industrial relation system and its governance are necessary to minimize accidents in factories.
Trade unions can play a vital role to ensure safety and implementation of laws. Necessary steps should be taken to create conducive environment to build strong trade unions in line with ILO Convention 87 & 98.
National OHS policy which had been drafted in 2010 should be finalised and passed immediately after consultation with experts, trade unions and other stake holders.
Md. Zafrul Hasan, General Secretary, BJSD placed recommendations before the house.
The Round Table was moderated by Syed Sultan Uddin Ahmmed, AED, BILS. Among others Shaidullah Chowdhury, President, BTUC; Badal Khan, General Secretary, BJSB and Md. Kabir Hossain, Finance Secretary, BILS were present.