At least 582 people, mostly workers, were killed in 6,081 fire incidents in factories across the country in the last six years, thanks to the negligence of factory owners and the government authorities concerned.
Investigation committees were formed over each of the incidents and reports were submitted to the authorities concerned, but nothing yielded. Some owners, officers and staff members of the factories were arrested, but they could be not made accountable in most cases, said sources in the Fire Service and Civil Defence (FSCD).The matter came to light again after a devastating fire claimed the lives of 52 workers in a juice factory in Rupganj of Narayanganj on Thursday.
According to the FSCD, the fire incidents took place in about 6,081 factories in the last six years from 2015 to 2020, claiming the lives of at least 582 workers and other people and causing financial losses to the tune of about Tk 1,000 crore.
Of the incidents, 39 percent originated from electric short circuits.
At least 68 people died in 1,013 fire incidents in 2015 while 52 in 1,165 incidents in 2016, 45 in 1,019 incidents in 2017, 130 in 1,131 incidents in 2018, 134 in 997 incidents in 2019 and 153 died in 756 incidents in 2020. Debashis Bardhan, deputy director (Operations and Maintenance) of the FSCD, told the Daily Sun that the factory owners, FSCD, Department of Inspection for Factories and Establishments, Department of Environment, Department of Explosives, Electronic Inspection Board, RAJUK, city corporations, municipalities, union parishads and some other stakeholders of the government cannot avoid liability for the growing fire incidents in factories throughout the countries.
He said the government directed the factories’ authorities several years ago to appoint a retired fire service officer at each factory and they were also directed to arrange own firefighters with safety equipment so that they can respond to any fire immediately.
“But it’s a matter of regret that the majority of factories have no fire officers and own firefighters, and even sufficient fire safety equipment,” Debashis said.He also said a fire safety plan is obtained from the FSCD when a factory is constructed. “However, after taking the plans, the factory authorities don’t implement these,” he said.
“If the factory owners follow the Bangladesh National Building Code (BNDC) and the fire safety plans, the fire incidents will come down to a great extent. But they don’t do so,” he said.
About the Rupganj factory fire, the FSCD official said had fire safety measures been in place along with the fire officer and firefighters, the workers might have been evacuated.
Ahmed Belal, deputy inspector general of the Department of Inspection for Factories and Establishments, told the Daily Sun that the factory owners will have to be brought under accountability. “The Section 62 of Bangladesh Labour Act-2006 sheds light on safety-related measures, but it doesn’t specify. Besides, Fire Services Act-2003 gives the FSCD authority to provide fire safety-related plan, but the plan is not abided by most of the factory owners,” he said.
Like the FSCD officer, he said they have also liability as they cannot inspect all the factories for their manpower shortage. “We’ll need at least 20 years to inspect the factories only in Dhaka division with the manpower we have currently.”
Belal urged the government to strengthen the Bangladesh Labour Act and Fire Service Act to bring all those responsible for the fire incidents to book.
Besides, all the government authorities concerned should inspect whether factories are being built following the designs and other certificates, he said.