The government has decided to amend the Fire Prevention and Fighting Rules 2014 to relax major safety clauses under pressure from apparel and knitwear factory owners.
Home affairs ministry in March asked the Fire Service and Civil Defence to prepare a fresh draft with a view to amending the rules after considering observations given by Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association and Bangladesh Knitwear Manufacturers and Exporters Association regarding the standard of the safety clauses.
The clauses to be reconsidered include incorporation of firefighting equipment, hydrants and the spaces surrounding the buildings.
‘We have decided to amend the rules after incorporating the business community’s observations,’ home ministry additional secretary Pradip Ranjan Chakraborty told New Age.
In fact, BGMEA and BKMEA have been objecting to some major fire safety provisions since the Fire Prevention and Fighting Rules in September 2014, came in effect under the Fire Prevention and Fighting Act 2003.
They are for reducing width of the approach roads, empty spaces around the buildings, capacity of hydrants and other fire safety equipment set as standard in the rules.
‘A few days back, I met the fire service director general and told him that we want enforcement of the laws and rules but at the same time the rules must address the realities of the country,’ said BKMEA acting president Mansoor Ahmed.
‘All the garments and knitting factories do not have sufficient spaces and resources to comply with the European standard safety measures,’ he said.
But the probe reports, prepared by different government agencies, indentified inefficient firefighting measures as one of the major causes for the recent fire tragedies, including the ones at Churihatta and Nimtoli in old Dhaka and at Tazreen Fashion Factory, Savar.
Over 2,000 people died and 11,000 were injured in 89,923 fire incidents across the country between 2004 and 2018, according to fire service data. An estimated wealth of Tk 2,099.73 crore was damaged in those incidents.
Fire hazard also concerns foreign buyers — they too want to ensure safety of the garment workers. Associations of foreign buyers Accord and Alliance for Bangladesh Worker Safety also put pressure on the owners of 2,300 garment factories in Bangladesh for ensuring fire safety compliance in the factories.
‘I don’t understand why the government bowed down to the pressure from the garment factory owners when most of the factories are still not compliant with fire safety requirements,’ said National Garment Workers Association president Amirul Haque Amin.
‘For safety of the workers, we demand enforcement of strict and timely rules,’ he said, adding that he did not understand why the rules had been a suspension on the enforcement of the rules just three months after it came into effect in 2014.
The home ministry on January 15, 2015 suspended the enforcement of the rules as per a cabinet decision following requests from business community, home minister Asaduzzaman Khan told New Age on April 3.
In separate letters to the Fire Service and Civil Defence and the home ministry on December 2, 2014 and November 24, 2014 respectively, BGMEA and BKMEA demanded preparing rules ‘reflecting the ground realities’ and argued that they were not ready to comply with many of the clauses.
Garment factory association secretary general Ehsan Ul Fattah, in his letter, said that they would not be able to continue to operate the apparel factories unless several provisions like taking occupancy certificates, constructing at least 15-metre approach roads, establishing hydrants with a capacity of 2 lakh gallons of water and keeping pump houses were repealed.
BGMEA demanded removal of sections 4, 8 and 114 of the rules regarding regular inspection and reporting for ensuring sufficient fire fighting equipment in the warehouses.
The BGMEA also demanded enactment of separate rules for old and new factories.
Fire service officials said that they were in dilemma over entertaining the ‘illogical demands’ of garment and knitwear factory owners by amending the rules.
‘The basic principle for firefighting is developing capacity of an organisation for immediate response to a fire. So, the buildings, factories and other establishments must be well equipped,’ said a fire service official, adding that fire-fighters usually reached the spot when initial damage had already been done.
‘We face problems for responding quickly and effectively for scarcity of sufficient spaces around the buildings and adequate water sources,’ the official said.
‘An effective set of rules, like the suspended ones, is a must to avoid recent tragic incidents at Nimtoli, Churihatta, Banani and Gulshan in the capital,’ he said.
Former president of Institute of Architects, Bangladesh architect Mubassher Hussain said, ‘The government should not compromise while faced with the demands of the garment owners and go for an streamlining of the fire safety measures specified in the rules, rather the government should give incentives to the factories for complying with the international standard.’
BKMEA president Salim Osman refused to take question as he was visiting Madina, Saudi Arabia.
The then BGMEA president and now Dhaka’s North City Corporation mayor Atiqul Islam said that he could not remember what happened with the Fire Fighting and Extinguishing Rules 2014.
Fire service and civil defence director general M Sajjad Hossain refused to talk on the ministry decision. ‘We will let you know later,’ he said.
However, home ministry additional secretary Pradip Ranjan Chakrabarty wanted fire service authorities to make a fresh draft of the rules soon.
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