Failure of three public agencies led to the fire at Hashem Foods factory in Narayanganj's Rupganj, leaving 52 people dead, according to the findings of a civil society probe.
The inquiry report said relevant supervisory bodies such as the Department of Labour, the Department of Inspection for Factories and Establishments (Dife), and the Fire Service and Civil Defence Authorities, did not discharge their responsibilities properly.
From the very beginning, those authorities had irregularities in granting various types of clearances, said Jyotirmoy Barua, convener of the committee, presenting the report released at a press conference at Dhaka Reporters' Unity on Tuesday.
He added that the fire service department was not aware of the goods stored in the factory building before the fire broke out. So, with huge oil reserves in the building, firemen tried to extinguish the fire only by sprinkling water, which helped to further spread the fire.
He recommended that government institutions enhance their efficiencies, and measures be taken to ensure their accountability.
Committee member Professor Anu Muhammad said the government was preparing a budget of Tk6,00,000 crore, implementing various development projects worth thousands of crore of taka, but has failed to recruit the required manpower for Dife.
He added that there has been a recurrence of such incidents due to the failure to bring to justice those responsible for such earlier incidents, including the Tazreen Fashions fire and the Rana Plaza building collapse.
The probe report, released after a 30-day investigation, said the Hashem Foods factory fire was not a mere accident but a structural killing because of negligence. The report also says industries in Bangladesh, and their workers, are at grave risk.
From data analysis and direct investigation, the committee has identified several causes of the fire and casualties. For example, there were no smoke detectors, fire alarms, or emergency exits, anywhere in the six-story building.
Furthermore, the part of the building (fourth floor) where most of the bodies were found had a locked collapsible gate at the back.
The government and various sources put the death toll at 52, but the Civil Probe Committee has already identified 54 people so far.
The Dife and the Fire Service lack necessary equipment and manpower.
RECOMMENDATIONS OF THE COMMITTEE
The committee said in its recommendation that the lack of minimum safety in the factory, low wages, and the unsafe working environment, were not the result of incompetence, but reluctance, negligence, a risk to life, and the drive to increase profits.
The government agencies responsible for the design approval of the factory building, firefighting and implementation of the labour law, have not fulfilled their responsibilities and officers concerned should be brought to justice.
Compensation law is one of the examples of many weaknesses and deficiencies of the existing law. If a worker dies in the workplace, the compensation should be an amount higher than the probable lifetime income of a worker had he or she survived. It would be a punitive financial penalty and a deterrent to negligence for the authorities.
Adequate compensation should be ensured to families of the killed, injured, and missing workers beyond the existing limitations of labour law. All medical expenses until full recovery of the injured should be covered, and the medical treatment period should be treated as paid leave, ensuring adequate compensation.
Alternative employment for all workers and compensation for loss of work should be arranged.
To ensure a safe working environment for workers in all industrial establishments, necessary arrangements should be made for firefighting, and training of all workers and officials in this regard should be made compulsory.
If the workplace becomes hazardous or legal safety is not ensured there, it is important to have legal provisions so that workers can notify the inspection department at any time and the inspection department can appear in the workplace within 24 hours of being informed.
Organisations need to provide the necessary security (professional, legal and social) to ensure the rights of workers to unionise freely.
Medical care in the workplace should be made compulsory, and factory authorities or employers have to bear the cost.
The national minimum wage for child labour needs to be set at a level whereby parents can ensure the full cost of a child's education and their health protection and nutrition, even if only partially.
A white paper should be made public by the government with detailed information on building safety, working environment and labour rights, deficiencies in existing laws, and weaknesses of law enforcement, in listed and unlisted factories across the industry.
A commission should be formed with representatives and experts from various parties concerned to determine what needs to be done to change the prevailing dangerous situation.