A fire broke out at TEMPAC, a garment accessories factory in Tongi BISIC industrial area of Gazipur on September 10. More than 20 workers were killed and 72 injured in a boiler explosion at the factory.
A fire that broke out at Bashundhara City Shopping Mall in Dhaka on August 21 morning was brought under control, nearly 16 hours after the incident. The association of the Bashundhara Shopping Mall claimed that the extent of loses from the fire would go up to Tk 500 million as some 100 shops of the level-6 had been damaged.
Another fire broke out on the third floor of the five-storey Tropical Knitex Ltd factory building in Gazipur district on August 19. After fighting for 16 hours fire fighters managed to rein in the fire. Machinery, thread and other commodities worth Tk 180 million were devastated in the flames, according to media report.
In the month of February 2016 several fires took places in Dhaka and surrounding areas. A factory located in Gazipur, which is a supplier to retailers like JC Penney and H&M, caught on fire on February 02.
In 2012, more than 110 people died in a fire at the Tazreen Fashions factory.
These incidents indicate that safety measures in the factories and malls are not properly maintained.
Fire is one of the most common hazards. Fire causes huge loss of lives and properties every year. Fire is a common problem in readymade garment (RMG) industry. RMG factories employ more than four million workers.
The leading cause of death in a fire is asphyxiation, by a three-to-one ratio over burns. Fire consumes the oxygen in the air, while increasing the concentration of deadly carbon monoxide and other toxic gases in the atmosphere. Inhaling carbon monoxide can cause loss of consciousness or death within minutes. The heat from a hostile fire exceeds anything to which a person is normally exposed. Fire generates a black, impenetrable smoke that blocks vision and stings the eyes.
The damage of utility networks and fire would be the main causes of fatalities if any major earthquake strikes Dhaka city. Earthquake experts fear that the entire city would be burnt down due to outbursts of gas pipelines and chemical factories during any major earthquakes.
Although termed as 'fire accident', most fire incidents are far from accidental. Indeed, most fires are preventable. Industrial units, particularly garments industry, are victims of deadliest fire incidents. Tragically, factory fires are all too common in Bangladesh.
But by taking proper safety measures and training, fire risks could be reduced. In compliance with Section 62 of the 2006 Bangladesh Labour Act, measures mentioned below need to be taken in factories, mega malls and industries to ensure proper safety and security:
- Building construction, safety equipment arrangement, utilities facilities, furniture settings, etc. within the building must strictly follow fire codes to meet safety regulations and guidelines.
- Ensure an alternative exit with a stair connecting all the floors of the factory building and width of stairways and exits must be adequate.
- Exit routes must be sufficient for the number of workers employed in the factory and must remain unlocked during working hours of the factory so that workers can easily escape during danger time.
Industrial fires cause injuries and loss of life and property. Factory owners should take initiative through proper implementation of fire prevention measure. They should conduct evacuation drills in their buildings every year.
Factory management should provide immediate and appropriate first aid box in each floor. A well-organised first aid system ensures quick medical treatment that can prevent loss of many working days.
Safety situation within the factory should be reviewed regularly. Managers, supervisors and workers should be properly trained in fire and safety procedures. They should take responsibility for ensuring safe exit of people during or following an incident.
Hazardous materials need a proper storage procedure to minimise the risk of fire, explosion, serious personal injury and environmental contamination.
Electrical safety is very crucial as it is closely associated with fire. That's why regular maintenance and proper electrical installation are very important. Most of the time improper electrical wiring and overloaded electricity lead to fires.
Government authorities should encourage the factory/establishment owners and workers to ensure safety measures with proper technical assistance and guidelines, monitoring and supervision mechanism.
The writer, a Disaster Risk Reduction Expert, is a Development Lawyer.