Selected good practice

Building a culture of workplace compliance

Article | Dhaka | 22 March 2021
DHAKA (ILO News) - Two major industrial accidents rocked Bangladesh in 2012 and 2013 - over a thousand garment employees lost their lives, and many others were maimed and scarred for life. The tragedies led to public outrage, workers’ protests and international pressure on the country to improve working conditions in its garment factories.

In this context, the ILO launched two Development Cooperation projects in 2013 - Improving Working Conditions funded by Canada, the Netherlands and United Kingdom, and Improving Fire and General Building Safety funded by US Department of Labour. With technical assistance from the two projects and several other buyer-led initiatives, the Government of Bangladesh inspected more than 3,500 export-oriented garment factories for fire, electrical and structural safety.

After the inspections were completed, the two ILO projects continued to work together with the government, workers’ and employers’ organizations in Bangladesh to support the remediation of inspected factories and strengthening of national regulatory bodies such as the labour inspectorate and the fire service department, which are mandated to monitor working conditions and fire safety in factories and establishments.

The ILO’s Fire and Building Safety project which ran from 2013-2016 focused on harmonization of safety and inspection standards in Bangladesh and instilled a collaborative approach among the different regulatory authorities, which previously tended to work on their own.

Brigadier General Ali Ahmed Khan, Retired Chief of the Bangladesh Fire Service and Civil Defence had worked closely on the harmonization process and recognizes the development brought about through the ILO initiative. He said:
“Fire service inspectors now go on joint inspections with the Department of Inspections for Factories and Establishments (DIFE).

The joint inspections make it easier to pinpoint problems at the factories and help arrive at joint decisions on what remediation needs to be carried out. This benefits the industry as well as the fire service by giving us exposure and interaction with another agency.”

The Fire and Building Safety project also developed an interactive online course for fire inspectors in collaboration with the ILO’s International Training Centre in Turin, Italy.

Meanwhile, the project on working conditions is continuing in its second phase and takes a broader approach by facilitating remediation of factories through enhanced collaboration between relevant regulators, strengthening of labour inspection, and improvement of occupational safety and health at both policy and enterprise levels.

These efforts were recently featured in a Compendium of Selected Good Practices on Workplace Compliance published by ILO’s Labour Administration, Labour Inspection and Occupational Safety and Health Branch (LABADMIN/OSH) under Governance and Tripartism Department.

Maurice Brooks, Workplace Safety Specialist at ILO Bangladesh is one of contributors of the publication and has been engaged with the two projects since their early days. He said:
“Our projects are leaving legacies. We are building a more systematic and harmonized inspection procedure that will not only improve working conditions in the garment sector, but benefit all industries.

The online Fire Safety Management Course that we developed continues to attract learners from all over the world. The Bangladesh platform of the course had circa 4,000 registered users (including 318 women) and issued 1941 certificates of successful completion, as of January 2021. The globally available version of the course had more than 5,000 registered users (including 537 women) and issued 2,890 certificates, as of January 2021.”

Joaquim Pintado Nunes, Labour Administration, Labour Inspection and Occupational Safety and Health Branch Chief at the ILO says:
“The ILO has a long tradition of providing technical assistance to Member States to strengthen and modernize their labour inspection systems.

In Bangladesh, ILO’s Development Cooperation programmes are making important contribution to improve regulatory inspection methods, better coordination within the labour administration system, and capacity building of labour inspection officials and fire inspectors to ensure effective and timely monitoring of workplace compliance.”

ILO’s Fire and Building Safety project developed a four-step process for implementing and monitoring safety compliance in factories. The process includes preliminary assessment, detailed engineering assessment, remediation work and maintenance of safety compliance. This protocol has been carried forward by the Working Conditions project to ensure workplace safety in the ready-made garment industry. At present, the Working Conditions project is overseeing the transition from remediation work to maintenance of compliance through DIFE’s Safety unit and by engaging with industry.

George Faller, Chief Technical Advisor of ILO’s project on improving working conditions in the ready-made garment sector said:
“Bangladesh has come a long way since the industrial accidents of 2012 and 2013. Thousands of employers and workers have been educated and trained on occupational safety and health.

The ILO is working closely with DIFE and other regulators to strengthen their governance and monitoring mechanisms, and complete the remediation of inspected factories.

Our ultimate goal is to establish a culture of safety in workplaces so that major accidents can be prevented.”

The compendium of workplace compliance includes 11 successful practices from projects implemented in Bangladesh, Colombia, Georgia, Haiti, and the Philippines. The publication aims to share knowledge gained through ILO’s Development Cooperation programmes so that the positive results can be replicated and developed further by compliance actors.