A journey towards workplace safety in the garment sector of Bangladesh

Feature | Dhaka | 17 May 2018
Labour and fire inspectors on field visit as part of a training on factory remediation follow-up
DHAKA (ILO News) - A car slows to a halt in front of Emile Fashion*, a garment factory in a gritty industrial suburb of Dhaka. Several women and men quickly jump out and start taking photographs of the factory exterior.

Soon afterwards they enter the factory and armed with tape measures, weighing scales and notebooks quickly embark on a thorough assessment of the building. Over the next few hours the team checks the width of concrete beams, examines electrical wiring and weighs bundles of clothes to find out whether their weight complies with the load capacity of the floors.

However this is no raid by authorities on a dangerous factory. Rather, it is a training exercise to help inspectors from government agencies gain the skills needed to check that factories are safe.

An inspector taking the measure of structural safety of a building
Following the collapse of Rana Plaza in April 2013, the Government of Bangladesh with the support of the ILO and two international buyers`’ platforms – the Accord and Alliance – inspected more than 4,500 ready-made garment factories for structural, electrical and fire safety.

Once inspections were complete, remediation of issues identified during the inspections began with the government establishing a Remediation Coordination Cell (RCC) in 2017 to oversee the remediation of factories under its National Initiative. The RCC is now being mobilized through capacity building of the labour inspectorate and other regulatory bodies to ensure they can follow up on the remediation process.

Inspectors busy with their tools and notebooks
The 21 enthusiastic women and men visiting Emile Fashion* are inspectors and engineers working for the Department of Inspection for Factories and Establishments (DIFE) and Bangladesh Fire Service and Civil Defence (FSCD) department.

Amongst them is Shahin Anam, a Warehouse Inspector for FSCD. “Fire safety is related with electrical safety and structural safety. Most fire incidents in our country occur due to electrical short circuits. Besides if a building doesn’t have accessible doors and staircases, how will people exit in the event of a fire? On-the-job training helps us to learn how different safety issues are interrelated and what we need to check during follow-up visits.”

The objective of the six-day training course organised by ILO and DIFE is to help the trainees understand inspection assessment reports, Corrective Action Plan (CAP) development and validation, and guidance manuals on fire, electrical and structural safety. A series of these training sessions will be organised throughout the year to facilitate a more coordinated approach among DIFE and other regulatory agencies to ensure harmonization in safety inspections.

ILO’s Workplace Safety Specialist Maurice Brooks said, “All factories under the National Initiative have prepared Corrective Action Plans (CAPs) based on the findings of inspection reports. Inspectors from the labour inspectorate and fire service are at the forefront of government’s efforts to follow up on the progress of these CAPs. Hence it is important that they are equipped with the knowledge and skills needed to carry out their roles effectively.”

The RCC has been established with the vision to oversee industrial safety issues in Bangladesh. Trained government engineers and inspectors have been deployed throughout the country (8 at DIFE headquarters and 18 at regional offices) tasked with remediation follow-up of National Initiative factories. They will shortly be joined by over 100 engineers being recruited by the ILO and Government of Bangladesh.

The formation and operation of the RCC is supported by ILO’s ‘Improving Working Conditions in the Ready Made Garment Sector Programme’ funded by Canada, the Netherlands and the United Kingdom.

*This name has been changed