Fire safety breaches rampant at many factories in the district
The industrial city of Narayanganj continues to be a hotspot for fire incidents, with at least 105 lives lost in scores of blazes over the past year and a half.
Sources at the district firefighting unit said they fought 127 fires at small and heavy industries in the city last year, while countless smaller fires went unreported.
Fires frequently tend to get out of control because the workers of many factories lack basic fire safety equipment and training. Poor designs of the factories also make fighting and escaping fires particularly difficult, the firefighters added.
“We found that more than 90% of the factories do not have proper firefighting equipment in Narayanganj. The rest of the factories have firefighting systems, but they do not meet safety standards. The workers cannot fight flames at all like this,” Fire Service and Civil Defence Narayanganj district unit Deputy Director Abdullah Al Arefin told Dhaka Tribune.
According to the district unit, fires broke out in 2020 at 33 export-oriented garment factories, 13 local garment manufacturing factories, and 81 factories of various sizes that manufacture other products. There were 92 fire incidents in households the same year.
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The main causes of the fires were electrical short circuits, boiler explosions and gas leaks.
The district unit does not have a list of factories that are vulnerable to fire risks, as the approval and renewal of fire safety licenses for multi-storey buildings and industrial plants is handled by Fire Service and Civil Defence headquarters, Deputy Director Arefin said.
However, the district unit had visited more than a hundred factories and establishments this year and observed that none of them had proper fire safety measures in place, he added.
Regarding the fire at Hashem Foods Limited factory in Rupganj that claimed 52 lives on July 8, Arefin said: “There were chemicals to make plastic bottles stored on every floor of the factory. This chemical emits an extremely toxic gas if it is not kept at the right temperature.”
The manner in which the chemicals were found at the factory suggested that storage rules were not followed. There were products in the corridors and even in the stairwell, which made it difficult for firefighters to navigate the building.
“We did not find a single fire extinguisher of any fire-fighting equipment at all. We cannot understand how production could take place in such conditions,” Arefin added.
Hashem Foods factory received fire safety approval in 2000
Soumen Barua, deputy inspector general (Narayanganj zone) of the Department of Inspection for Factories and Establishments (DIFE), said: “When we approve a factory, we see its documents, firefighting system of the building, machinery and how much machinery is being loaded. That factory received our approval in 2000.
“We cannot say if any design faults or defects in the construction of the building had developed since then,” he added.
Rupganj Upazila Parishad Chairman Md Shahjahan Bhuiyan told Dhaka Tribune the factory building was constructed in 1996 without any approval from the relevant authorities. As the building was constructed illegally, there are no records of its designs.
“There are more than two hundred factories in the upazila. Nobody bothers to take approval from us, except one or two.
“We have a committee consisting of engineers, representatives of the fire service, and the Department of Environment that approves the construction of the building,” he said.
Narayanganj does not have treatment facilities for burn injuries either.
AB Siddique, president of the Citizens’ Committee of Narayanganj, said the committee had been demanding a burn unit at the government hospital for a long time due to the alarming number of fire incidents.
“Only two hospitals have primary treatment facilities for burn injuries,” he said.
However, Narayanganj district Civil Surgeon Dr Mohammad Imtiaz thinks the district does not need a burn unit.
“Sheikh Hasina National Institute of Burn and Plastic Surgery in Dhaka is 20 to 30 minutes away. We can arrange a ward of 5-10 beds at two government hospitals for burn injury treatment, and that is enough,” he added.