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Tuesday, November 27, 2012
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Grief-struck

Worst-ever factory fire toll climbs to 111; workers forced to work even after alarm bell rang; safety compliances below par

A woman cries her heart out at the sight of the body of a relative killed in the Nishchintapur tragedy. The photo was taken on Sunday at the playground of a local school where the bodies of Saturday's factory fire victims were being laid down. Photo: Rashed Shumon

The blaze that killed 111 workers at Tazreen Fashions Ltd in Ashulia morphed into the nation's worst garment tragedy and shed the spotlight once again on poor safety standards.

At least 55 bodies were charred beyond recognition as the fire ripped through the eight-storey factory at Nishchintapur on Saturday for about 11 hours.

Relatives of the victims searched for their lost ones amid scenes of rescuers pulling dead bodies from the debris. The shocked relatives said most of the deaths could have been avoided had the supervisors allowed the workers to escape just after the fire alarm went off at 6:45pm.

The supervisors not only prevented the workers from leaving their stations but also locked the gates on different floors, said many survivors.

The workers alleged that they had found locked two of the three staircases that go down to the factory's ground floor. Maj Muhammad Mahboob, director of Fire Service and Civil Defence (operations and maintenance), said the fire-fighters found a gate on the staircases locked and had to cut a padlock open during the rescue operation.

The workers rushed through the other staircase to escape the flames. As they were half way down the escape route, they were told by their supervisors to get back to work. The supervisors assumed that the fire was a small one and would die down soon. But it was the other way round.

The blaze spread from floor to floor, burning its way in. Clouds of smoke filled every corner of the eight-storey building. The lights went out.

Flames spread fast from the fabrics and yarn stored on the ground floor, and trapped the workers inside the building. Many died after jumping off the building in an attempt to escape the flames while some escaped climbing down the scaffolding attached to the building.

Fire-fighters took half an hour to arrive at the scene, and the 18 units of fire service toiled more than 11 hours to put out the blaze.

The factory's safety system was below standard as the building has three staircases that lead to a lone exit on the ground floor. About 1,800 workers were working in the factory when the fire broke out in the warehouse on the ground floor.

Delwar Hossain, managing director of Tuba Group that owns the factory, claimed that the factory had adequate fire safety measures, but the workers could not use those during the incident.

He said they had arranged a fire drill at the factory a few days ago.

According to Delwar, the workers died from suffocation as they failed to escape because of thick smoke in the three staircases and the ground floor.

Documents posted on Tuba Group's website included a letter purporting to be from Wal-Mart's ethical-sourcing department for the US and Canada informing Tazreen Fashions that a May 2011 audit had found it to be a "high-risk" factory. The letter said two more such findings within two years would lead to Wal-Mart suspending orders from that factory for at least a year, reported The Wall Street Journal.

The workers said bundles of fabrics and yarn stacked in the factory's corridors and passages had ignited, turning the escape routes into death traps.

Kamrun Nahar, who worked as a sewing machine operator on the fifth floor, said they tried to rush to the ground floor as the alarm went off, but found the gate on second floor's staircase locked.

The supervisors told her to return to work.

“I helplessly waited for two minutes and then ran towards another staircase. Around 50 men and women followed me and we reached the exit on the ground floor, where all the staircases meet. We felt heat and saw smoke when we came down.”

Many workers escaped through the adjacent building by breaking metal bars of windows. The owner of that building, Mahmud Ali Sikder, said a makeshift bridge was made to connect the two structures.

He claimed that more than 400 people were helped to escape through his building.

About a dozen workers tried to extinguish the blaze with water after the fire spread on the ground floor.

“We tried to bring the fire under control but the highly flammable fabric and yarn fuelled the flames, and we gave up,” said Mominur Rahman, who was working on the first floor of the factory.

“Since we were on the first floor, we sensed the danger within minutes. We tried to extinguish the fire for the next 15 minutes,” said Mominur, who received minor injuries.

“We had a fire drill only a week ago, and 15 of us received training on how to douse fire with water or extinguisher, but nothing worked in this case,” he said.

Electricity went out within minutes, and flames swept through the corridors and staircases cutting off all exit points, said Mominur.

He suspected that the fire had started much before it was detected.

The extent of the damage started to emerge as fire-fighters finally brought the flames under control at about 6:00am on Sunday. Charred bodies and debris were on every floor.

In the aftermath of the factory fire, people were in a desperate search of their loved ones. Some of them were crying, some stood still gazing at the blackened, sprawling building. Some others dashed to the playground of the school nearby, where the dead bodies were laid down.

Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association put the death toll at 113.

At least 55 charred bodies were kept at Dhaka Medical College morgue and samples were collected from the bodies for DNA test yesterday. The unidentified bodies will be buried today at the Jurain graveyard in the capital.

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I have read several newspapers on this tragic incident. What I found out from those newspapers is extremely disturbing. They reported that after the fire started, the factory management locked the gates of all floors instead of opening them. To my surprise, one newspaper reported that one of the managers started playing loud music as soon as the fire was discovered. What in the world was going on in their heads! The fire was not a bonfire in a festival; It was an emergency. People’s lives were in danger. It appears that the factory did not have any emergency evacuation procedure in place. Even if they had one in the book, no one followed it. What the management did was simply committing mass murder! They must be arrested and tried for multiple first-degree murders. In the developing world, the doors of the corporate buildings and industries may be locked from outside but they can always be opened from inside during the business hours. In business establishments, shops, restaurants, etc., the doors are always unlocked during the business hours. All buildings must have fire emergency escape routes or the city administration will not give permit to operate industries and business there. The corporate offices, industries, and businesses also conduct fire drills on regular intervals so that the workers remain familiar with the emergency evacuation procedures. I wonder when our country will have such things.

: Truth Teller

Media people are always there before every incident to report the truth to the nation. How come they miss this grand incident ?

: narayan

Comments

  • neutral
    Tuesday, November 27, 2012 01:11 AM GMT+06:00 (90 weeks ago)

    The only legitimate question one can and should ask, whether the owner[s] of the factory and safety officials and operational unit in-charge have been arrested and sent for interrogation by special squad including expert from the army? This should follow immediate prosecution of the alleged culprits. There is no need for any investigation or political harbouring, the story with graphic picture are enough evidence of gross negligence in running such export oriented garment unit. The foreign buyers must put hard conditions for importing garments from Bangladesh keeping a regular and safety watchdog to find out the eligibility of a factory to export following the complete requirement of workers safety, security in work place. Please stop earning money walking over the dead bodies of the workers caused by the fault of the factory owners and safety unit in factory.

  • braum harald
    Tuesday, November 27, 2012 01:17 AM GMT+06:00 (90 weeks ago)

    Another factory again, anybody heard about the one in Pakistan a few weeks ago, where also 150 died, its always the same, the management is so scared that people might steal (no wonder with these shitty wages, honestly!) so they lock everything. A simple fire escape stair would help a lot that people can flee. The management should be hanged on the spot! I bet they all live in nice mansions and drive posh cars. A union should be formed ASAP, and before that, no more t-shirts should leave Bangladesh!

  • rouf
    Tuesday, November 27, 2012 01:25 AM GMT+06:00 (90 weeks ago)

    All the responsible people should be brought before law.

  • niloufar sarker
    Tuesday, November 27, 2012 01:38 AM GMT+06:00 (90 weeks ago)

    This is an unfathomable tragedy for the whole nation. Smoke inhalation is the major cause of death besides being burnt alive in this kind of fire. Synthetic fabrics, buttons and threads turn each factory into a potential tinderbox. In BD due to lack of land factories are mostly in unplanned risky high-rise buildings which are susceptible to this kind of tragedy. It is imperative that our govt have a department dealing specifically with the wellbeing of labourers. I doubt this falls within the scope of labour department. I was connected with this industry in it's initial stage for long and clearly remember fire brigade personals used to visit our factory to advise us about fire hazards including making sure that gates were accessible at all times and wouldn't allow fabrics and accessories to be stacked inside the working floors. Whatever has happened to the role of fire departments inspections regarding. The tragedy is there might be rules but when the owners make a mockery of them; such tragedy is waiting to happen in Nishchintapur. How ironic!

  • suahmed
    Tuesday, November 27, 2012 01:56 AM GMT+06:00 (90 weeks ago)

    The repeated fire genocide of the garment workers is a national tragedy. There is none to see their fatal deaths; especially our govt. did not pay heed to so many recommendations of previous investigation reports to ensure safety and security of the poor workers. The factory owners always escape punishment for their failure to ensure security of their workers though their sheer negligence is causing havocs to human lives. It is because of the hard work and toil of the mass garment workers that country is earning a biggest share of valuable foreign currencies, but it is very unfortunate that their life is always at stake. We demand an immediate measure to ensure the security of the workers.

  • CM Tufail Sami
    Tuesday, November 27, 2012 11:25 AM GMT+06:00 (90 weeks ago)

    Its a human tragedy of highest magnitude. Unthinkable.Could have been avoided if proper exit was available.Proper investigation should be made and responsible person/persons should be brought under law.

  • Roni Rahman
    Tuesday, November 27, 2012 04:30 AM GMT+06:00 (90 weeks ago)

    In this most tragic incident that has killed our fellow brothers/sisters, the most intolerable entity here is govt's persistent failure to maintain and oversight the very basic fire safety regulations. Incidents after incidents, be it in fire in garments, in faulty building collapse, in flyover collapse, it is happening on a regular basis as if it is the norm, as if it is the new normal. We are too 'tolerated' and 'accepting' of these normal without demanding and ensuring govt actions/accountability in incidents after incidents. The same routine broken records from govt. Giving 1 lakh to each victim, formation of investigation that goes nowhere etc. How many govt heads have rolled so far? Why not? We demand some govt heads to roll both in cases of this and in CTG flyover. These are too important public safety issues to let govt any pass without paying the price. We also want private law suit against govt and private bodies responsible for this. This must stop and only way to stop this is by extracting some high prices for these fatal negligence.

  • Salahuddin Sagar
    Tuesday, November 27, 2012 05:10 AM GMT+06:00 (90 weeks ago)

    It is our political problem and careless. Government should take to give proper security in all public and worker place.

  • Dev Saha
    Tuesday, November 27, 2012 05:19 AM GMT+06:00 (90 weeks ago)

    Many homes will be totally empty without these beautiful mothers and sisters, who have been doing such a good work for the country and world by providing us cheap clothes. Ironically, nobody was really concerned with their safety when they knew the disaster could happen in anytime. I bet these outcasts can only cry for few days and then they have to find similar jobs with similar future hazard. Are women' lives too cheap in Bangladesh? Would new safety measures be implemented in the garments' factories? If not, wait for the next disaster.

  • Syed kibria
    Tuesday, November 27, 2012 05:44 AM GMT+06:00 (90 weeks ago)

    I have no words but to cry along with the poor workers. Their scream will not reach to the high levels. We will remember for a few days, will try to compensate them with a little money or probably a house if their family is lucky. But how can you compensate death with money? When will we wake up? How come a factory get licence with only one fire exit? Government will have to answer all this question before they move on to another. It is a shame for us that only in our country workers have to work even after the fire alarm was on for a while. What a shame! I would like to see the steps that government takes after this terrible incident. Will they go and inspect all other factories? Aware people of the fire hazards? Educate them how to react and safely come out of the danger like all other develop countries does, or just leave it as it is and wait till another ton dies. Mourning is can only be successful if we can make sure there will be no such tragedy like this in our history.

  • Mohammad shahjahan
    Tuesday, November 27, 2012 07:14 AM GMT+06:00 (90 weeks ago)

    What the world we are living that despite garment sectors is our main source of foreign currency balancing our financial climate but those who are helping to make this happen they are neglected in terms of their remunerations but very surprising that no factories owner comply with health and safely regulations, if they would follow the safety regulations then a lots of people could save their lives from such incidents. Therefore, government should impose regulations of health and safety which would ensure by regular inspection, if any factories failure to comply should be imposed penalty some extent close factories.

  • zerosopher
    Tuesday, November 27, 2012 07:18 AM GMT+06:00 (90 weeks ago)

    Come to the root of the problem. The government is responsible for giving permission to the faulty factory building design. If government did not approve the building design then government is still responsible for letting the construction work go on and for allowing factory to run in such a building.

  • Anwarul Islam Mukul
    Tuesday, November 27, 2012 07:21 AM GMT+06:00 (90 weeks ago)

    Bangladesh Government does not care about the labour life in Bangladesh or in foreign country like KSA, EAU, Kuwait and Malaysia. Where as they are the servants of our citizen who act like king do not care about our hard working people's life who are earning billions dollar every year for their country. Now the USA buyer giving restriction Wal-Mart distances itself from fire in Bangladesh. Bangladesh will loose his huge market in overseas due to this kind of incident in Bangladesh. Without proper action labour protection law only Bangladesh will loose his huge market definitely.

  • raihan
    Tuesday, November 27, 2012 08:21 AM GMT+06:00 (90 weeks ago)

    This is not an anomaly. It is happening again and again....this incident also affected international market. If this continues, Bangladesh going to face big trouble.

  • M Z Haque
    Tuesday, November 27, 2012 08:59 AM GMT+06:00 (90 weeks ago)

    Deeply shocked, yes we are. This heart rendering event is touched our heart deeply and badly. No government can escape their responsibilities to address this issue my question is - why government not yet set up Health and safety Executive (HSE)? Why government not setting and strictly implementing safety policy standard to operate RMG sector? Many minister visits developed world, are they not looking at how they are managing their industry safety threshold? So the government can not escape its responsibilities. We hope from now on government will frame out a strict binding policy on safety standard in all industry in Bangladesh and also a watchdog body need to be established to audit safety compliance. We do not want any more to see our brothers and sisters will be victim of irresponsible acts from responsible establishments in our country. May Almighty help the families of departed souls.

  • Robin
    Tuesday, November 27, 2012 11:01 AM GMT+06:00 (90 weeks ago)

    I will not buy any made in Bangladesh garment until the owner and the supervisors of Tazreen Garments are punished. I will also write to my California Senators and Congressman to influence the major US buyers from buying Bangladeshi made garments until the Government of Bangladesh takes serious steps to insure workers' safety. That is my small way to pay respect to the dead.

  • Parvez Babul
    Tuesday, November 27, 2012 11:30 AM GMT+06:00 (90 weeks ago)

    The irony of fate of those ill-fated workers that their valuable lives are treated as valueless! Do the labour law, human rights and our constitution support this type of tragedy to sacrifice workers' lives? No, and never. That is why, this is the high time to stop killing the garment workers through taking and applying all the necessary steps from the government, garment owners, civil society and human rights organizations, workers' union, and the people of all classes. We do not want to see any more tragic death like this. So, let us come forward to prevent and stop it at any cost. Punish them who are involved in this killing.

  • barkat
    Tuesday, November 27, 2012 12:09 PM GMT+06:00 (90 weeks ago)

    The garment factory owners are very powerful, politically connected and highly influential. The workers are very weak, unorganized, not united and most important they have no political connection. This makes the relation of Factory owners and workers that of a master and slave. This Tazreen factory was red listed by Wall-Mart for its poor safety standard in 2011. Why and who allowed it to keep running when the safety record was so poor. Will the factory owner, management and the government official who are responsible for safety aspect be ever brought to justice. I am 100% sure never in their life time. But sure they will not escape their punishment hereafter.

  • M. K. Alam
    Tuesday, November 27, 2012 01:34 PM GMT+06:00 (90 weeks ago)

    We observe national mourning today.But how long we mourn for such huge loss of life out of man made catastrophe like the one in Tazneen Garments, Ashulia. There is sufficient laws in the country but who cares to obey or enforce them. Many reports reveal that the main gate was closed at the time occurrence. Some reports say the fire fighting apparatus was ineffective. The road to the factory was so narrow that the fire fighters could not reach the spot easily resulting to spread the blaze hurriedly.

  • z hossain
    Tuesday, November 27, 2012 03:50 PM GMT+06:00 (90 weeks ago)

    the approval process of all buildings specially factory buildings where large nos of people work and may be under risk should go through a more stringent process. In many countries this is is so where normal buildings go to a simpler approval process and factories and such go though a more stringent process where all contractors and engineers such as electrical / mechanical incl architects and engineers have to certify .

  • Saurav
    Tuesday, November 27, 2012 06:30 PM GMT+06:00 (90 weeks ago)

    This is so touching . Any kind of misuse of laws ,God will not bear the tear of this woman. Govt and the owner should pay the compensation .

  • Farhan Enam
    Tuesday, November 27, 2012 06:39 PM GMT+06:00 (90 weeks ago)

    Neoliberal Globalization is chasing the developing states to become export-led at the cost of social welfare. The role of state today is left with only forming an 'Investigation Committee' after death of the poor whereas it should have been the protector of the same.

  • Mahboob Hossain
    Tuesday, November 27, 2012 12:12 AM GMT+06:00 (90 weeks ago)

    I cannot accept this incident as an accident and this is simply genocide. Why so many incidents of fire burnt death in so many garment factories? One of the main cause the owners show is short circuit. The reason of so many incidents of short circuit is because of the fact that the electricity connections are not given by calculating load. Many more people will die in this country due to short circuit because electricity connections are not given according to load. Moreover, there were no safety exit and workers were not allowed to get out of the factory. Let us wait for more genocide in the name of accident. I am sure those killers will not be punished and after the investigation drama either the killers will be declared as innocent or will be rewarded.

  • nuton
    Tuesday, November 27, 2012 12:45 AM GMT+06:00 (90 weeks ago)

    It shows how our production lines or product warehouses are vulnerable to the extremists, if there is no change of guards demanded by them! Yes, this is only one of the politeness shown by the extremists. Poor garments workers are on the front-line of wars to make digital Bangladesh!


 

 


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