DEMAND of leaders of construction workers for workplace safety, life insurance benefits and due compensation for accidental death and injury is more than justifiable as, according to the Bangladesh Institute of Labour Studies, around 456 construction workers died and 433 were severely injured in 2012–2016. Speakers, as New Age reported on Thursday, were speaking at an exchange of views organised by BILS in Dhaka on Wednesday. This hazardous condition at workplaces should be attributed to the negligence of factory owners in ensuring safety measures, lack of enforcement of labour laws and the absence of safety committees. The observation by experts and academics from home and abroad that all types of occupational fatalities are preventable by laying stress on safety management should be taken into serious consideration by owners and entrepreneurs alike as casualties in accidents at work appear commonplace to authorities and they tend to forget these tragic deaths.
The Bangladesh Occupational Safety, Health and Environment Foundation revealed that 13,211 workers had died in workplace accidents since 2005. Not only that, about 9.7 lakh workers aged over 15 years suffered occupational injuries in workplace accidents, according to the Labour Force Survey 2013, released in 2016. The number of worker casualties in accidents in the construction sector recorded a sharp 178 per cent increase in the first six months of 2014 compared with the corresponding period the year before. The findings also show that the second highest number of casualties took place in the apparel sector. Deaths of workers from the inhalation of poisonous gas, getting crushed under metal scraps and being burnt alive are common in most of the ship-breaking yards as most of them are still toiling hard in hazardous conditions without having any unions, safety equipment and training risking their lives. Overall, the major causes of the casualties are electrocution, factory fire, collapse of building roofs or walls, fall from under-construction high-rise buildings and boiler explosion. However, the deaths of workers should not be considered in terms of mere accidents as they happen because of the negligence of owners or entrepreneurs who take no safety measures in hazardous workplaces. Their negligence also should be treated as a criminal offence. That the workers are allowed to work without any safety gears and job contracts or health insurance, undoubtedly, amounts to a blatant violation of the labour law. Violation of the law should be stopped immediately with stringent enforcement of the relevant rules by the authorities concerned.
While there have been heated debates and discussions on worker safety on different public forums, there has been limited progress towards ensuring it. The fundamental reason for this may be attributable to a general lack of enforcement of relevant rules and monitoring. Indeed, the state must play the leadership role in this regard but society also needs to be actively aware of this issue.
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