Fires in garment factories: Role of an emergency action plan

Dhaka,  Mon,  25 September 2017
Published : 13 Aug 2017, 21:00:42

Fires in garment factories: Role of an emergency action plan

Rana Dutta
The ready-made garment (RMG) sector in the country is still haunted by safety issues. Enough emphasis has been given on those issues, but fire tragedies take place in the garment factories quite often. Fires damage properties of the affected companies. What is worse, the image, reputation and credibility of the Bangladesh RMG industry get dented, globally. All stakeholders should, therefore, undertake to implement a strategic emergency action plan for ensuring an industry-wide effective safety management system.

Planning is mandatory for tackling emergencies. Lack of resources and trained personnel can lead to chaos during an emergency. Time management initiative proves highly crucial because the stress of the situation can lead to poor judgment resulting in severe losses.

In the simplistic term, an emergency action plan (EAP) means a written document which includes the action to be taken by all staff members in the event of emergencies such as fires, explosions, floods, earthquakes, hurricanes, tornadoes, toxic material releases, radiologic and biological accidents, civil disturbances and workplace violence. It is a guideline for handling any sudden or unexpected situation with a deft hand.

In addition, EAP is a calculative strategic plan -- a set of core philosophy to ensure and enhance the fire safety standard in workplaces so that it can ensure a hazard-free working environment. But, effective safety culture depends on a combination of physical fire precautions and efficient safety management system in an organisation.

According to Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), drafting an emergency action plan is not enough until its proper implementation gets materialised in practical circumstances for ensuring employees' safety in an organisation. Here, a safety promoter needs to take challenges by making a quick decision in right time and in the right place. An EAP will be useful if its content is up-to-date and employees are sufficiently educated and trained before an actual evacuation. 

The purpose of an emergency action plan is to facilitate and organise actions of the employers and employees during workplace emergencies. Well-developed emergency plans and proper employee training are the key factors for reducing workplace casualty and structural damage. Otherwise, it will lead to a disorganised evacuation or emergency response resulting in confusion, injury, and property damage.

An emergency action plan can prove worthy in a wide range of emergencies if it is properly materialised for safety purposes. It consists of some unique components such as: means of reporting fires and other emergencies, evacuation procedure, escape routes, floor plan, names of key personnel, policy for workers and visitors with disabilities, policy for updating and maintaining the EAP, training for new staff members and rescue procedures.    

Violation of compliance issues, lack of safety awareness, insufficient training,  electrical short-circuit and inadequate emergency action plan are the leading causes of fire disasters in Bangladesh. An effective safety management must be developed, documented and thoroughly rehearsed. Thus an authentic guideline during an emergency can be formulated. Moreover, it helps in discovering unrecognised hazardous conditions and find ways to eliminating them. 

However, lack of potential resources such as equipment, trained personnel and supplies weakens a safety procedure. These issues must be remedied before an emergency occurs. The best way to protect RMG establishments, workers, and industry is to expect the unexpected and develop a well-planned emergency action plan to guide everyone when immediate action is necessary.

Knowing where to go and how to get there in the event of an emergency is a significant part of a quick response. If we have a unique plan, time will tell what to do or not.

Emergencies never come alone with prior information, they do occur any time and in any place and destroy anything that obstructs their paths. Nevertheless, we can better protect ourselves if we are aware of our workplace safety issues and remember that safety is first and a must. 

To make an emergency action plan more effective, we can also demonstrate a brief description of the alarm system which can notify employees (including disabled employees) to evacuate and also to take other actions. The alarms used for different actions should be distinctive and might include horn blasts, sirens and even public address systems. Moreover, an alternative communication centre needs to be used in the event of a fire or explosion.

An effective fire safety management is a crying need for the ready-made garment (RMG) sector. The slogan of the day should be: "No more fire".

The writer is assistant deputy secretary, Bangladesh Knitwear Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BKMEA).

Editor : A.H.M Moazzem Hossain
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