Effective Precautions as to Fire to be taken by the Employer in the Workplace
The recent fire incident in the six-storied building of the food processing factory of Sajeeb group in Narayanganj caused the reported death of fifty-two people with dozens of workers still missing. Over fifty other workers have been injured after jumping off the building immediately after the fire broke out. Fire officials confirmed that it was difficult to control the blaze due to stored plastics, chemicals and flammable items in parts of the building. The survivors of the incident alleged that the front gate which was the only way to enter and exit the factory premises had been locked since the fire broke out. Moreover, the fire service director informed the media that the factory building had not proper fire safety measures. The 35,000 square-feet building was supposed to have four or five stair-way for emergency exit but there were only two. This incident is the glaring example that the factories and establishments are not complying with the legal provisions relating to fire safety as enshrined in the Bangladesh Labour Act, 2006 and the Bangladesh Labour Rules, 2015 issued thereunder.
Section 62 of the Bangladesh Labour Act, 2006 provides the precautions to be taken by the factory owner to ensure fire safety. Every establishment shall be provided with such means of exit including at least one alternative staircase connecting with every floor at the time of fire and requisite number of fire-fighting equipment in every floor to extinguish the fire. The law confers the responsibility upon the Labour Inspector to inspect the establishment on a regular basis. If the inspector finds that means of exit has not been installed or requisite number of fire-fighting equipment have not been placed as per the conditions of the licence approved by the Fire Service Department, then, he may inform the employer to take the required measures by serving a written order. More importantly, the employer must ensure that the door affording exit from any room shall not be locked or fastened which will obstruct the entry or exit of the employees during their work in the establishment. But it has been alleged by the survivors of the Sajeeb group fire incident that the front door was locked which caused the number of deaths higher than anticipated.
In addition, it has to be maintained by the employer that exit of a room shall not be hindered or no barrier shall be put on the way while work is going on and all doors shall be made in such a way that they may be opened at once from inside of a working room to outwards. The Bangladesh Labour Act, 2006 provides detailed provisions to keep the workplace safe in the event of fire. First, every window, door or other exit affording means of escape in case of fire shall be distinctively marked in Bangla letters by red colour or marked by other clearly understood sign. Second, in every establishment, the clearly audible whistle shall be provided to alarm every worker employed therein in case of fire or danger. Third, a fire passage-way giving access to each way of exit in case of fire shall be provided for the use of the workers in every room of the establishment. Fourth, in every establishment where ten or more workers are ordinarily employed in any place about the ground floor, or explosive or highly inflammable materials are used, or stored, effective measures shall be taken to ensure that all workers may be familiar with the means of escape in case of fire and are adequately trained in the routine work to be followed in such cases. Fifth, a mock fire-fighting shall be arranged at least once every six months, in factories and establishments wherein fifty or more workers or employees are employed.
To prevent such tragic fire incidents in the future and to improve the hazardous conditions of the factories and establishments, the following recommendations can be given. The factory owner must ensure that the factory has sufficient number of emergency exits and keeps such exits unlocked and unobstructed during working hours, so, the workers can swiftly and safely evacuate in case of emergency and firefighting teams with equipment can quickly enter. A professionally-developed fire extinguish plan can be adopted by the employer which can be tested through regular fire drills with all workers. The factory premises must be properly equipped with fire prevention materials and other firefighting equipment. Moreover, a manager responsible for structural and fire safety mechanism shall be appointed and 18% worker must have training about the fire rescue procedure, primary aid and the use fire extinguisher. With the capacity of 5000 litres, a water reservoir can be constructed from where water will be supplied to extinguish the fire. For every 1000 square metres areas of the factory, a water drum shall be installed with the capacity to contain 200 litres water (Rule 55, The Labour Rules, 2015). Finally, proper implementation of the provisions of the Bangladesh Labour Act, 2006 and the Bangladesh Labour Rules, 2015 can ensure the safe workplace for the workers which ultimately mitigate the casualties during the outbreak of fire.
The writer is Advocate, Supreme Court of Bangladesh.