Fire Service and Civil Defence Week

ILO’s effort in improving fire safety in Bangladesh

The Fire Service and Civil Defence Week is observed from 6-12 November in Bangladesh. On this occasion, Country Director of ILO Bangladesh, Tuomo Poutiainen reflects on the development in fire safety measures in Bangladesh. This write-up was first published in a magazine brought out by the Fire Service and Civil Defence Department of the Government of Bangladesh.

Comment | Dhaka | 06 November 2019
Bangladeshi firefighters at an ILO-supported training on fire and building safety in garment factories.
Fire safety, fire prevention and firefighting are integral parts of the Bangladesh Fire Services and Civil Defence (FSCD) operations, all with the aim of achieving safety in buildings. Fire safety is normally associated with the regulatory and operational enforcement of measures in buildings to ensure the safety of occupants should a fire occur, while fire prevention is more associated with the means of controlling fire hazards to reduce the probabilities of a fire occurring. Firefighting, once a fire has taken hold, deals with the control and extinguishing of fires and is left mostly to well-trained Fire Services personnel.

The International Labour Organization (ILO) is a tripartite UN agency that brings together governments, employers and workers of 187 member States to set labour standards, develop policies and devise programmes that promote decent and safe working conditions for all women and men. As such, ILO engages with FSCD as one of the constituents of its “Improving Working Conditions in the Ready-Made Garment Sector programme (RMGP) launched in 2013 with funding from the Governments of Canada, the Netherlands and the United Kingdom.

The ILO RMG programme was built on momentum generated by the tragic fire and loss of life at Tazreen Fashions and the tragic event of Rana Plaza. Its goal was to address the serious challenges facing the ready-made garment industry and to secure lasting improvements to working conditions in Bangladesh. The programme was developed in response to requests for technical assistance by the Government of Bangladesh, social partners, global buyers and development partners. The programme has been supporting the interventions identified in the Tripartite National Plan of Action, the Joint Statement and the Government of Bangladesh’s commitments to improve working conditions in the industry.

FSCD’s training and effort is mainly concentrated in the area of fire prevention and firefighting. The implementation of the fire safety measures of the Bangladesh National Building Regulations (BNBC, 2006) for buildings falls outside of the remit of the fire services, but FSCD is the only entity doing regular inspections of fire safety measures in buildings.

In response to the fire safety issues affecting the RMG sector, ILO contributed in organizing training for the inspectors of FSCD on the BNBC requirements for fire safety in buildings to help them detect non-compliances in fire safety as part of their regular inspections. Major achievements of this training for enhancing the capacity for FSCD for more effective inspections in the RMG sector included techniques for effective follow up on inspection reports in a systematic manner and online fire inspectors’ courses to reinforce the learnings from the workshop training.

The strategy for the long-term fire safety in the country depends on good coordination between relevant government authorities. The FSCD and Department of Inspection for Factories and Establishments (DIFE) are engaged with safety assessments and follow-up in garment factories. As a means for better coordination, ILO has also contributed to the development of a FSCD online licensing system, further enhancing efforts to improve fire safety in Bangladesh.

As recent tragic fires in Chawk Bazar and Banani have illustrated, the fire safety efforts focused on the RMG sector over the past five years need to be applied to buildings in all sectors in Bangladesh, and to all industrial sectors including small-to-medium size enterprises (SMEs). Close collaboration among community volunteers and different government department such as FSCD, Police, DIFE and City Corporations will be especially important in ensuring safety in SMEs.

FSCD can play an important role in the assessment and identification of non-compliances in the existing stock of buildings, but a much greater effort needs to be placed on effective enforcement of BNBC fire safety measures in buildings currently being planned and under construction. Coordination between FSCD and RAJUK, as well as the departments mentioned above, will be necessary for effective enforcement of regulations.

ILO has identified many areas where fire safety needs to be addressed in sectors other than the RMG and also weaknesses in the system for enforcement of regulatory fire safety measures. The ILO stands ready to assist the different government agencies in addressing these shortcomings. FSCD would need to be a close partner in that endeavour.

ILO wishes the Fire Service and Civil Defence department success for their Fire Prevention Week 2019 and looks forward to continued collaboration in improving fire safety across Bangladesh.