Another deadly factory fire at Rupganj in Narayanganj district claimed at least 52 lives and injured many others. The fire that started at a food processing factory Thursday evening was truly devastating. The firefighters deployed 18 units and could bring the fire under control Friday afternoon after a 21-hourlong hard battle. In the meantime, the workers who got trapped inside the third floor of the five-storey factory building were charred to death under a very tragic circumstance. The ill-fated workers could not come out since the stairway, allegedly, was locked from the outside. Even the exit of the top floor of the building was under lock and key.
As it happens in the case of most major fires, be it in a factory or a chemical store, many irregularities and violations of laws and rules centring on the place of occurrence have emerged. The factory owners reportedly stored inflammable chemicals on one floor of the building. Besides, the factory owners had kept PET bottles and other plastic goods stored at various places. The department of explosives said the factory did not take any licence from them for storing chemicals. It is also not known whether the factory had any fire-alarm system or whether it had enough fire extinguishers in place. One thing is certain that the factory spreading over a large area has very limited exit routes.
One has ample reasons to believe that the factory management was oblivious of the need for ensuring the safety and security of their workers. The death of 52 workers shows nothing but management's indifference. It was equally careless about protecting its property and investment. But what is about the role of the relevant government agencies such as the Department of Inspection for Factories and Establishments and the Department of Explosives? Some improvements in the workers' safety situation are now visible only in the export-oriented garment factories. This has happened only because the buyers' platforms and the International Labour Organisation (ILO) wanted the government and the factory owners to do it in the wake of several major accidents involving apparel factories.
A top official of the fire department giving his first-hand account of the Rupganj factory building said the fire-devastated factory looked more like a large storehouse than a factory with very limited exit routes. The government, as usual, has formed several committees and there could be some more to probe into the fire incident. There would be discussions in the media and talk shows in the electronic media for a couple of days. Then it will be forgotten, as usual. The state agencies make a lot of promises to do many things to stop the recurrence of similar incidents, but not much is done on the ground.
Over two thousand workers died in factory fires and other accidents in recent years. The life of a factory worker is cheap as his/her labour is, it seems. The state, however, cannot allow the recurrence of such accidents. The government should take the people concerned in the relevant agencies to task if they are found negligent in carrying out their duties and responsibilities.