The less written about the general working conditions in most garment factories the better, least not for the welfare of the workers, but in order not to embarrass a nation in front of its international buyers. But fire threatens life.
Pointedly speaking, workers died in our garment factory fires because (a) they were unable to escape to a place of safety in a multi-storied building, (b) the ensuing panic propelled stampede, (c) escapees were trampled to death, or were overcome by smoke and noxious gases (lack of oxygen), and (d) there was no plan (prior drill) to fight a fire. The scenario, improved yes, but not significantly to remove the risk to life in all factories.
In designing for fire safety, emphasis at the design stage should focus on (list is not exhaustive)
1. Capacity: number of workers will determine number of doors, size of entry/exits
2. Layout: volume per person, aisle width, floor finish and distance to exit should meet standards; congestion should not impede escape
3. Alternate and adequate number of exits and staircases (two is never the solution)
4. Building and finish materials: determines Fire Load (how much will burn)
5. Comprehensive design: addition and/or alteration to a building, and new materials can have adverse effect on fire safety
6. Alarm: Early detection by Smoke Detectors
7. Water requirement: availability of water, size of reservoir, type of riser (dry/wet)
8. Overhead sprinkler system: depending on risk
9. Control measures: number and location of fire extinguishers (based on size and organisation of space) and other equipment; fire training for staff
10. Emergency Lighting: to make escape possible when power is cut off
11. Means of Escape: each person should be able to escape to a place of safety unaided within 2.5 to 3 minutes of starting a fire
12. Fire Services: distance, advance liaison, fire lift; not depend on it to save lives in the first few minutes of a fire, but to fight fire and rescue those trapped in designed refuge cells
13. Road traffic: location of the factory, its surroundings, neighbouring land-use, traffic congestion, pattern and behaviour, width and turning radii of roads, over-bridge clearance, etc.
14. Assembly Point: place for escapees to assemble so that every person supposed to be in the building can be accounted for; drill
15. Regular inspection: must ensure general cleanliness, assess fire hazard from machinery and smoking behaviour of users
In today's follow-up, Architect Arifa Akter Shumi hammers at an old and much repeated issue and yet there still remains the underlying threat of more garment workers falling victim to fire accidents if appropriate measures are not adopted.
The author is Consultant to the Editor on Urban Issues