Standardising workplace safety

Dhaka,  Tue,  22 August 2017
Published : 23 Nov 2016, 21:44:02 | Updated : 23 Nov 2016, 21:44:24

Standardising workplace safety

Even the loss of as many as 3,400 lives to workplace accidents in the country over the past five years cannot quite present the inhuman condition and risks involved at factories and industries. The figure has definitely gone up on account of Rana Plaza collapse and Tazreen fire disaster. But hardly a year goes by when a major factory or industrial accident does not take place. This year the Tampaco Foils factory disaster claimed lives of 45 workers and no wonder, the death toll has risen to 341 by October. The yearly count of victims, including the injured, is outrageously high. But surprisingly, this issue is hardly a cause for serious concern either for owners of factories and industries and the policymakers as well as officials overseeing the safety matters at workplaces.

Had the rights groups both at home and abroad not been vocal against the conditions in the country's garments factories, even the collaborative inspection conducted by the Accord and the Alliance would not have become a reality, let alone the improvement in workplace safety. All the garments factories could not still be subjected to the mildly rigorous tests and the follow-up retrofit was out of question. However, garments factories are not the only manufacturing area where such measures are warranted. There are factories run by crude machines and implements. Also there are others where children are employed to take up hazardous jobs. Still others are notorious for both risky and endemic unhygienic conditions such as plastic and asbestos factories along with tanneries. Workers are compelled to work without protective gears and even if they do not meet with accidents, a kind of slow poisoning takes life out of them. Either they become invalid or suffer from incurable diseases. 

It is a hostile world workers face in this country. Sophisticated and automated industries apart, such is the condition in which workers are compelled to work round the year. In the informal sector, life is really hard and workers -- whether they are bus helpers, mechanics or lathe machine operators - always find themselves at the receiving end. This is true even when their wages and holidays are concerned. This is undoubtedly a symptom of underdevelopment. It is a legacy the country has inherited from its poor economy of the past. Now it is a time for a change.

How to bring about the change in the abject factory and industrial condition is a most important question not only in the interest of workers but also for the country's industry and economy. Factories cannot be run in such shabby and disorganised conditions year after year - no matter if they are in the informal sector. True, update of factory conditions costs but without protective gears no worker should be forced to do hazardous jobs. Masons and paint workers, when they are precariously perked, are an example of the dangers they are exposed to. But others exposed to similar dangers seldom become public knowledge. Clearly this warrants setting up a minimum safety standard if not quite up to the international level but at least enough to guarantee immunity from extreme dangers at workplaces and back-up measures in emergency.
Editor : A.H.M Moazzem Hossain
Published by the Editor for International Publications Limited from Tropicana Tower (4th floor), 45, Topkhana Road, GPO Box : 2526 Dhaka- 1000 and printed by him from City Publishing House Ltd., 1 RK Mission Road, Dhaka-1000.
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