Fire fighters carry those who died at the Tampaco Foils factory in Tongi near Dhaka after a boiler exploded at the building caught fire Sept. 10. (ucanews.com photo)
Labor and human rights activists have urged Bangladeshi authorities to enforce workplace safety regulations following an explosion and fire at a factory which left 31 workers killed, over 50 injured and 12 missing.
A boiler exploded at Tampaco Foils factory that produces aluminum foil near Dhaka and sparked a deadly fire in the early hours of Sept. 10. Nestle and British American Tobacco source packaging materials from the factory.
A total 25 units of fire fighters joined by the Bangladesh army struggled to douse the blaze that raged until the night of Sept. 11. Rescuers found 24 bodies in the wreckage while others died in hospital.
Around 100 workers were there when the accident occurred and most of the deaths were caused by choking on smoke and falling concrete. The death toll is likely to rise, Bangladesh Fire Service officials said.
"We have confirmed 31 deaths so far now and the toll is likely to rise as some injured workers are in critical condition. We have a list of 12 people still missing," said Dabashish Biswas, Assistant Director of the Fire Service and Civil Defense.
Relatives of deceased workers accused the factory owner of "criminal negligence." Abdul Quader, father of dead worker, Jewel Mian has already filed a murder charge against eight people including the owner.
"The factory owner is on run at the moment. We will probe the case thoroughly and take necessary action," Firoz Talukder, officer in-charge at Tongi police station told ucanews.com.
Theophil Nokrek, secretary of Catholic bishops’ Justice and Peace Commission blamed the factory owner’s negligence.
"The workers had complained to him about a gas leakage but he didn’t pay heed," said Nokrek. "This is a clear violation of labor safety and criminal negligence and all those responsible should be handed exemplary punishment."
In a statement on Sept. 11, a coalition of international labor groups — the Worker Rights Consortium, the International Labor Rights Forum, the Clean Clothes Campaign, and the Maquila Solidarity Network — said the Bangladesh government and international brands must speed up and expand their safety-improvement campaign.
"The boiler explosion, fire and structural collapse at the Tampaco Foils factory in Bangladesh demonstrates the ongoing dangers that industrial workers face in that country and the failure of global corporations to take meaningful steps to protect the safety of workers in their supply chains," the statement said.
The government has formed a five-member high-level committee to probe the accident and ordered it to submit a report within 15 days.
Fatal factory accidents are nothing new in Bangladesh where poor labor practices and appalling working conditions are common. In the past two decades, about 2,000 workers have died in factory collapse and fire, especially in the garment industry.
Search for missing persons continues
Humanyun Kabir has been searching for his brother Nasiruddin, who worked as a machine operator in the factory for nearly 20 years.
"My brother was on night duty and the next day he was supposed to go for Eid holidays. He is still missing and I don’t know what happened to him," Kabir told ucanews.com.
According to official figures, there are 5,500 registered boilers in various factories in Bangladesh.
An operational boiler needs to be inspected once a year and must be overhauled once every three years. But the Office of the Chief Inspector of Boilers, a government agency under the industries ministry, is so poorly staffed that it only has six inspectors.
"Altogether we can inspect and certify some 400 boilers a month," M.A. Mannan, the chief inspector told the Daily Star newspaper, adding that they have sent a proposal in February to the industries ministry to recruit 350 more employees.