Lack of workers' safety is a chronic issue at workplaces in Bangladesh. Following the worst-ever workplace-related accident, the Rana Plaza collapse, in 2013 that took more than 1,100 lives, the government amended the Labour Act 2006 to make it more comprehensive. It incorporated, for instance, provisions empowering the labour inspector to direct employers to ensure workplace safety, undertake precautionary fire safety measures, arrange compensation in case of workplace death or injury and so on.
But still accidents are taking place claiming lives of workers. Even in July this year, the fire in a juice factory in Narayanganj killed some 50 people. However, in the export-oriented Readymade Garment (RMG) industries, there has been a remarkable improvement in the situation, thanks to the Accord, a legally binding agreement between brands and trade unions. But the picture of the non-export-oriented, non-RMG industries is quite different. Mention may be made here of the findings of a study based on newspaper reports and carried out by a rights body, Safety and Rights Society (SRS). Between 2014 and 2019, some 2,677 workers died due to lack of occupational and health safety measures at the workplaces. In other words, on an average, one worker died every single day over the six years under the study. The study further revealed that, of the five sectors covered by it, transport recorded the highest percentage of workplace-related deaths, while, construction, service, manufacturing and agriculture followed in the descending order of the percentage of casualties. Needless to say, these sectors that employ the largest number of workers should get the highest consideration from the government as far as workplace safety concerns go. As such, it is believed that the authorities concerned would also increase their regulatory oversight for these sectors so that they can progressively become more compliant to laws related to workplace safety.
Of late, the government is learnt to have given renewed attention to the issue of workplace safety at the industries and their compliance with safety laws. Also, as could be further learnt, the government has taken due note of the fact that the regulatory authorities responsible for overseeing the industries' compliance aspects lack necessary coordination among themselves. Small wonder that the industries in question often fail to meet their obligations in meeting workplace-specific safety measures for their workers. So, to get around this mismatch, it has formed an integrated factory inspection and monitoring team under the leadership of the Bangladesh Investment Development Authority (BIDA).The move no doubt is a commendable one. As expected, the monitoring and inspection teams representing 15 government agencies, as told by the relevant government functionaries at a recently held training event in the city, are going to have the requisite authority to discharge their responsibilities.
However, one needs also to keep in mind that the sheer force of authority is not the sole answer to the problem of compliance-deficits that various industries are riddled with regarding workplace safety. Thankfully, it is reassuring to know that, as the BIDA chair told the training event, the monitoring and inspection teams' job would be one of detecting the compliance-related flaws, and not enforcing compliance, at the industries so inspected and reporting the same to the appropriate authorities. While the government would do its bit, the private sector would also do well to lend a hand in helping the industries to duly meet their compliance-related obligations.