The government initiative to have a committee inspect factories to ensure safety measures has not made progress as expected, the Centre for Policy Dialogue (CPD) has observed.
A lack of skilled manpower, adequate allocation of funds and proper utilisation of information technology, hindered the activities of 108 inspection teams formed by the committee, reveals a study by the CPD.
According to the study, the 108 teams started operations in October last year, aiming to inspect 5,000 factories and commercial establishments across the country to gauge their compliance with workplace safety regulations in three months.
They were able to inspect only 1,900 organisations from October to December, falling far short of their target, said CPD Research Director Dr Khondaker Golam Moazzem at a media briefing on the subject. "Fire Incidents in Workplaces and Workers' Safety: Where Are Corrective Actions?" yesterday.
Christian Aid in Bangladesh and the CPD jointly organised the programme in the capital.
The Bangladesh Investment Development Authority (Bida) formed the 24-member committee to ensure accident prevention measures and a safe working environment in factories, industries and commercial establishments in July last year, after a fire at the Hashem Food and Beverage factory in Rupganj, Narayanganj, led to the death of more than 50 people.
The study found that inspection activities were not gaining momentum as the International Labour Organisation (ILO) had not been involved in the process.
The CPD also said Bangladesh is on track to officially becoming a developing country, but there is no alternative to ensuring safety at workplaces in order to reach the goal.
Dr Khondaker Golam Moazzem, who presented the research paper at yesterday's briefing, said the Bida-led inspection process confronted a number of operational challenges, including difficulties in coordinating the schedule of officials of deputy commissioners' offices in different districts, Department of Environment, and Public Works Department, as the officials had other departmental engagements.
"Excessive work pressure on the officials of the Department of Explosives and Office of the Chief Inspector of Boilers was also a challenge due to a shortage of human resources. In some areas, one official was a member of 8-10 inspection teams," he said.
He further said database management is likely to be a major challenge in identifying overall and factory-specific challenges and making recommendations.
"Bida should develop a common digital platform to store and disclose data and publish the progress in inspection quarterly, half-yearly, or annually," he said.
He also said it is important for Bida to invite the ILO in the inspection process, as it has huge experience in working on industrial safety-related issues.
"The Bangladesh Fire Service and Civil Defence (FSCD) should prepare reports on the fire incidents separately for chemical, plastic, textile, and aluminium sectors as most of the fire accidents in non-RMG enterprises took place in those sectors," said Dr Moazzem.
"The FSCD should focus on major industrial clusters more, especially in Dhaka and Chattogram. The Remediation Coordination Cell (RCC) needs to be involved in the inspection and monitoring process of non-RMG factories with necessary human resources and logistic facilities," he continued.
He further recommended that the Department of Environment recruit more inspectors and officers, and train them properly for purposes of inspection.
Besides, problems regarding transportation for the inspection teams should be resolved as soon as possible in order to complete the initial inspection in the shortest possible time.
"The DoE should maintain regular inspection of the non-RMG factories and should increase awareness related to environmental cost and damage among industrialists," said the CPD research director.
"Boiler and explosives-related laws and acts need to be amended as the inspection checklist was developed on the basis of some century-old laws and acts," he added.
At the briefing, CPD Executive Director Dr Fahmida Khatun elaborated on the purpose of the "Citizens' Initiative" taken to assess government programmes such as the one taken regarding safety at the factories.