Emergency exit staircases must be mandatory at RMG factories

Dear Editor:
As we know, the ILO works in close collaboration and coordination with relevant national and international stakeholders and partners to enhance national enforcement of relevant fire and general building safety laws and regulations consistent with international labour, fire and building standards and good practices. The objectives of the ILO initiative of Fire Safety project are advantageous. Fire Safety project accomplishes a wide range of activities. The United States Department of Labor (USDOL)-funded Improving Fire and General Building Safety in Bangladesh project’s purpose is to improve fire and building safety in the Ready Made Garment sector
The Bangladesh fire and building safety regulatory framework is upgraded and necessary mechanisms are in place and functioning. Its goals are: (i) Labour inspection procedures and tools for factory inspection are upgraded (ii) Capacities of inspectors from the Ministry of Labour and Employment and of other relevant entities to conduct building and fire safety inspections are strengthened (iii) Efficient and timely inspections are carried out by relevant Bangladeshi authorities (iv) and a Building and Fire Safety data tracking system is available and functioning.
At least 112 people died in a fire that swept through a clothes factory in Bangladesh on 21 November 2012. The blaze broke out in the multi-floor Tazreen Fashion factory in the Ashulia on the outskirts of Dhaka city.Some people died after jumping from the building to escape the flames.
Fatal fires are common in Bangladesh’s garment manufacturing sector.It is unclear what caused the fire, which started on the ground floor trapping many victims in the factory.Officials suspect an electrical short circuit might have caused the disaster.
Rooms full of female workers were cut off as piles of yarn and fabric filling corridors ignited. Reports also suggested fire exits at the site had locks on, which had to be broken in order for staff to escape.
Witnesses said many workers leapt from upper stories in a bid to escape the flames. Twelve workers died in hospital from injuries sustained in falls, officials said, bringing the overall toll to 123 dead and more than 150 injured.
Kalpona Akter, from the Bangladesh Centre for Workers’ Solidarity (BCWS), said: “We initially thought the fire broke out from generator but I checked the generator room today and it was not from there.” Akter said that locks on exits at the factory had been broken, indicating that the gates had been locked when the fire broke out. Most bodies are too badly burned for immediate investigation. Fire service officials have said they believe a short circuit was responsible.
The blaze will focus attention once more on the conditions in which workers producing clothes for sale in the west work. The factory, in the Ashulia industrial zone, is one of around 4,000 such installations in Bangladesh, many of which operate with minimal safeguards against fire or industrial accidents. The country annually earns about £12.5bn from exports of garment products, mainly to the US and Europe.
Syed Abul Mansur wrote in the Weekly Holiday dated January 18, 2013 that many of those were trapped by the flames because the eight-story building lacked emergency exits. The blaze broke out on November 23 at the factory of Tazreen Fashions which makes products for Wal-Mart and other companies in the U.S. and Europe.
Firefighters recovered at least 100 bodies from the factory, fire department operations director said. He said 12 other people who were injured after they jumped from the building to escape died at hospitals.
Tazreen Fashions was given a “high risk” safety rating after May 16, 2011 audit conducted by an “ethical sourcing” assessor for Wal-Mart, according to a document posted on the Tuba Group’s website. It did not specify what led to the rating.Wal-Mart spokesman Kevin Gardner said online documents indicating an orange or “high risk” assessment after the May 2011 inspection and a yellow or “medium risk” report after an inspection in
August 2011 appeared to pertain to the factory where the fire broke out.
Authorities said dozens of bodies were burned beyond recognition in the garment factory fire. They had been buried in mass graves in Dhaka. Anjuman-e-Mofidul Islam, a charity organization, arranged the funerals for the victims as the catastrophic fire gutted the factory.
Authorities said samples were obtained from the charred bodies for DNA testing in order to ascertain their identities.The matter relates to the number of “Emergency Exits” and “stairs” for multiple levels of factory floors.
At the minimum, there should be one “Emergency Exit”, for every level/floor irrespective of the number of people in the floor. However; there must be one “Emergency Exit” for a maximum of one hundred and twenty people located on the floor. For more than that number of people there has to be another “Emergency Exit”. This includes all—workers, supervisors, officers and all staff posted for that floor. Secondly, there must be a similar exit for the ground floor also.
The steps should be minimum clear six feet wide, and the steps should rise between 5 to 8 inches. Also, after every ten feet of vertical height of the factory building there has to be a landing—no less than 6ft X 6ft in area. The surface has to be rough, and skid proof, so that it is not slippery even in rain or washing or wetting. These safety steps should come out into the open, and not in any working, or storing area.
Secondly, safety drills have got to be mandatory and the frequency should be at least one drill in every month. This should be recorded in a “Safety Register”, dated and signed by Factory Manager, giving details of time held, number of people participating and the time elapsed from alarm and all people on the ground present! Any other observations; if any should also be recorded!
These are needed in overall national interest, for safety of workers and all others employed in garment industry.
The authorities should accept these officially and send to all garment factories.
Six years after the Tazreen Fashions factory fire, 10 workers injured in the incident have taken their destiny in their own hands and set up their factory in Ashulia. After failing to get jobs in other factories, the injured started the “Tazreen Ahoto Sramik Amra Ghure Darate Chai” in Buripara area on October 1, 2018.
It was the brainchild of Shobita Rani, a survivor of the fire. “When factory authorities started denying us appointments and as we were unable to work full time, I decided to set up a mini-factory,” she said to the Daily Star.Later, Shobita shared her idea with some of the other victims of the fire and nine of them agreed to go ahead with the plan.
Ms. Shobita Rani is worthy of sincere thanks for her enterprising spirit that enabled her to set up the mini factory. “Tazreen Ahoto Sramik Amra Ghure Darate Chai” factory owners deserve all possible cooperation from the Government.
A M K Chowdhury

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