STANDARD measures to prevent fire at factories are still not in place and workers continue to fall victim to fire. In the latest incident, two workers of a steel mill in Narayanganj died from their burn injuries on November 24. In 2003, the government enacted the Fire Prevention Act but the official notification had been pending for 11 years. In January 2015, immediately after the notification, the home ministry decided to hold the framing of the rules as the associations of owners of apparel and knitwear manufacturers and exporters objected to some clauses of the act. After examining the reservation that the owners’ associations had, the government decided to revise the rules but revision has been stalled as three years later, there have been no rules to implement the act to prevent fire in the industrial sector. The delay is a shocking disregard to worker safety.
Drawing from previous factory fires, some of the rules that the owners’ association have opposed are considered critical to prevent fire. The rule asked the factory management to keep 20-feet wide road surrounding the buildings for easy access of fire engines. The significance of the rule was evident in the fire at Tazreen Fashions Limited, when fire engines had to take detour to reach the factory as the main road to the factory was too narrow. The owners’ association also expressed reservations about some clauses related to occupancy certificate, installation of automatic sprinkler, smoke and heat detector and the establishment of underground reservoir. The BGMEA claimed that the rules might apply to factories set up in industrial parks or to new factories, but not to the existing factories. Yet, in many incidents of fire, workers complained that early warning of fire could have minimised casualties. Considering their reservations, the government has revised the draft rules and the BGMEA has submitted its proposal on the draft to the home ministry. The process of deciding the standard rules to prevent fire in industrial sectors is worrying on two counts. First, although fire safety is a worker safety issue, the process remain largely bilateral and sidestepped any involvement of worker or labour rights activists which makes it evident that the government prioritised factory owners’ reservations over workers’ concerns. Second, fire safety prevention rules affect the greater industrial sector; however, in Bangladesh apparel sector appears to be unduly influencing the rules and stalling the process, risking lives of workers.
The government must, therefore, immediately involve workers and labour organisers and seek opinion of stakeholders in other industrial sectors to finalise the rules to prevent fire at factories. It is unacceptable that the implementation of an act of such public interest has for so long been obstructed by factory owners.
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