Bangladesh: Safety failings take heavy toll on human lives – again.

Bangladesh has hit the headlines again with a building collapse and heavy loss of human lives that could and should have been prevented. It seems no lessons have been learned, with another accident rocking the nation. The roof of an under-construction cement factory owned by Sena Kalyan Sangstha (Army Welfare Organisation) collapsed on the afternoon of 12th March at Mongla in Bagerhat District near Dhaka.

From the information provided by the BWI affiliate BSBWWF, the roof collapse killed 7 workers and left many trapped in the rubble. The work was contracted to `China National Building Material Company' in February last year within the time frame of 22 months. The roof work was further sub-contracted to a local company – ITCL.

Mourning the loss of the human lives, Ambet Yuson, BWI General Secretary expressed solidarity with the families of workers killed and also injured in the roof collapse, "W stand by the workers today and express concern in the strongest terms on the continued neglect of the safety standards and norms in Bangladesh."

Mr. Yuson further added "The Government has let down the workers once again. They have failed to ensure that the health and safety of the thousands of construction workers, who toil in extremely dangerous situations. Their lives continue to be at risk. We urge the Government of Bangladesh to conduct a full investigation; bring the guilty to book and initiate immediate necessary corrective action including reviewing and streamlining norms and putting stringent system in place to grant construction permits and building regulations. We also urge the Government of Bangladesh to ratify ILO Conventions 155 on Safety and health at Work and C167 on Safety and Health in Construction."

The BWI Global Health and Safety Officer, Fiona Murie, says, “Under –construction (or under-demolition) building, structure and scaffold collapses are a serious concern for construction workers in all countries, and South Asia, is a region where workers are particularly vulnerable to fatal and serious injury because of sub standard structural and work practices.

A number of serious failures are typically the cause of a catastrophic failure such as this one: Failure to obtain necessary permits from the competent authorities, failure to obtain reliable structural engineering reports, and or failure to comply with these. Inadequate supervision by the client and engineer to ensure that the contract and the technical specifications are respected by all contractors and suppliers on site.

Failure to manage the supply chain is also critical. Undercutting on materials costs compromises the integrity of the building, and is a form of corruption all too common in the construction industry. Materials are itemised in the technical specifications and priced in the Bill of Quantities, however, substantial amounts of money can be skimmed off the contract by unscrupulous people by cutting back on quantity and quality of steel, rebar and cement quality.

And of course, failure to carry out risk assessments, to use proper work methods, to establish realistic time schedules for the work, and to carry out proper inspections and supervision. Finally, failure to train, equip and empower workers so they can identify dangerous work, inform their employer and refuse to carry out a task where there is serious and imminent danger, without fear of reprisals, as is required by the Safety and Health Conventions of the International Labour Organisation.

The authorities in Bangladesh must investigate all the circumstances to establish what factors led to this catastrophe, and ensure that this will not happen again. Workers must not be left vulnerable to exploitation, death, injury and disease, due to dangerous and illegal working conditions. They are the ones who pay the price for the incompetence, negligence or corruption of the authorities, the clients and the contractors who are putting profits before people.”