Fire safety is workers’ right
Fire safety is a paramount part of the safety and security of workers' rights. Workplace safety has been the most talked phenomena in labour law. Bangladesh has legislated few laws like Bangladesh National Building Code(BNBC), Labour Act 2006, Building Construction Act 1952, The Town Improvement Act 1953 etc. to control the building of structures fire safety friendly.
Bangladesh National Building Code 1993 has inserted provisions of mandatory fire protection and fire fighting mechanism for every building. According to the BNBC Fire Drill and Evacuation Procedure section, every building must have an emergency evacuation protocol, first aid and firefighting plan, training and responsibilities for occupants, compliant with the requirements provided therein. Again, the BNBC and the Labour Act 2006 has provided the establishment structure facing the tentative fire risks.
In section 62 of the Labour Act 2006, every establishment must have at least an alternative stairway, passageway exit door etc. which are affordable enough to exit during a fire. Exit doors can't be locked or fastened in any situation. The same section has provided escaping doors shall be distinctively marked in Bangla and in red letters of adequate size or by some other effective and clearly understood the sign.
Most importantly, not only the structure of establishments but also section 62 the Act has provided of arranging a mandatory mock fire-fighting in factories wherein fifty or more workers and employees are employed at least once in a year and the employer shall maintain a book of records in this regards. Sections 79-81 have stated that if there is any high risk of dangerous operation, accident and other detrimental operations, the employer shall provide notice of such danger beforehand of a certain time.
In reality, building structures provided in legislation are not accurately followed by maximum establishments. As per reported by the Housing and Public Works Ministry, about 66% of buildings in the capital violate the provisions of BNBC where a large number belongs to working establishments of workers. Mock fire-fighting is rarely arranged by the employing authorities. Fire Service authority has also reported several times that maximum buildings of Dhaka and other divisional cities possess no fire safety which leads to severe violation of workers' rights.
Fire calamities cause grave violation of labour rights. Along with death toll, a large number of workers suffer from partial or total disability frequently caused in fire accidents.
Bangladesh Environment Lawyers Association (BELA) report shows that at least 16000 fire incidents took place in the last 10 years where about 1590 persons were killed and thousands were injured seriously. In such accidents, workers often get very nominal support from the employers as well as the government.
Labour Act 2006 has created provision for compensation in section 150 subject to the burden of proof of the occurrence arising out of and during the course of employment. So, this is really hard for a victim to pursue the provision legally.
Again, Bangladesh Labour Welfare Foundation Act 2006 also inserted provisions of financial helps to the victims of any accidents. However, there are lengthy processes of getting financial and other supports in both cases which highly discourse the victims or their families to get help which results in further violation of workers' rights.
Further, survivors of fire calamities are usually suffered from serious psychopathic trauma afterwards the incidents. Such psychological state leads to long-lasting effects which may last for the whole life of the survivors. In cases of injured workers, employers most often retrench or terminate their jobs due to disability to work.
Workers get no mental support to overcome mental trauma arranged by the employers rather losing their jobs creates extra pressure upon them and their families. But in many countries, it has been a part of workers' rights to take care of the mental health of the workers during even after the termination of jobs. A recent example of the suicide of Rana Plaza rescue volunteer who was suffering years of trauma-related depression.
The economy of Bangladesh is getting dependent on the workers who deserve a real step to minimize fire calamities in workplaces and proper compensation thereof. Though there exist laws, implementation of those laws is strictly necessary. It's the duty of the government, employers as well as other stakeholders to uphold workers' rights to protect workers' rights in every sector.
Md. Jahedul Islam is pursuing LLM at University of Chittagong