Absence of regular emergency evacuating drills puts a garment factory in danger whenever a fire breaks out, though lack of fire fighting equipment at the building is always brought to the forefront as main reason behind the fatality.
The factory owners take licences from the fire service authorities by showing only some fire fighting equipment. In most cases, they do not prepare their staff members for such eventuality, said Abdur Rashid, deputy director of Fire Service and Civil Defence (Dhaka division).
Rashid said the owners even do not take initiative to refill or refit the equipment on expiry. Fire extinguishers are often found ineffective.
Fire service had asked the owners to set up hydrant points, build underground reservoirs with a capacity of one lakh gallon water and set up a pump with the capacity of lifting 300 to 350 litre water. "We had also asked the owners to install smoke and heat detectors," he said.
The Garib & Garib sweater factory in Gazipur, where a fire broke out Thursday night leaving at least 21 persons dead, also had extinguishers, but the staff and workers had no idea about their operation.
Since 1990, more than 240 people lost their lives in different garment factory fires.
Selim Newaz Bhuiyan, former deputy director of the Fire Service and Civil Defence, too, said lack of regular evacuation drill is the main cause behind increasing casualties in garment factory fires.
According to the rules, every garment factory must have at least two staircases -- one for regular use and the other for emergency exit. Although most of the factories have emergency exit, the way is narrowed by piles of materials and goods. It is not easy for so many workers to come down the stairs when a fire sparks, he said.
Selim said many of the alternative staircases are not useable because of their poor condition.
The factories also lack public address system that requires a control room from where the workers on each floor can be directed how to leave the place in such situation. Usually, workers get panicked and run helter-skelter after hearing the fire alarm.
Fire service officials said a large number of garment factories do not have emergency lights, which can be turned on without electricity during the crisis. This is why the whole factory falls into total darkness during a fire, they added.
Some factories reportedly had kept their gates closed during fire incidents. On January 6, 2005, during a fire at Shaan Knitting and Processing Ltd in Narayanganj, all the gates of the building were kept locked. The incident claimed 23 lives.
President of Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BGMEA) Abdus Salam Murshedi said every garment factory has to maintain regular drills to ensure compliance with rules.
In Bangladesh, about 4,500 garment factories are now in operation. Over 70 percent of them are located in and around the capital.