Garment workers in Bangladesh not only lack basic knowledge on fire and building safety but also feel fire drills and safety training take too much time and increase pressure on them to reach production targets, a survey has found.

The feedback was uncovered during a Baseline Worker Survey by the Alliance for Bangladesh Worker Safety as part of ongoing efforts to measure workers' knowledge and awareness of health and safety issues, and subsequently develop training to meet their needs.

A combination of questions and interviews with more than 3,200 workers in 28 factories producing for Alliance member companies also found that workers feel a limited sense of responsibility to prevent fires.

A majority do not see the value of fire prevention measures; two-thirds think most fires can be easily managed; and nearly three-quarters think that some fatal fires cannot be prevented.

The results also show that existing training activities have had limited impact, with content not adapted to account for workers' low literacy levels, particularly among female workers.

Workers also believe fire drills and safety training activities take too much time and increase pressure on them to reach production targets during peak season.

The survey also reveals that supervisors are the main channel for worker complaints, but show a low sense of responsibility for, and awareness of, risk prevention. This points to a considerable risk that workers who report fire safety concerns will not get adequate responses or follow-up.

And there also seems to be a greater awareness of health and safety amongst young workers, suggesting that the next generation is more concerned about the wider impacts of the work they do.

The results provide a baseline from which the Alliance - a group of 26 North American retailers and brands including Gap, JC Penney, Kohl's, Target, VF Corp and Wal-Mart - plans to measure the effectiveness of its efforts to improve worker safety.

Initial findings suggest training programmes should focus much more on basic fire safety knowledge, encourage strong worker participation, and prioritise supervisors and guards due to their key role in fire prevention. Given the high fire risks involved in knitting, these factories and departments are also singled out for priority treatment.

The Alliance now says it intends to carry out the survey at regular intervals of six to 12 months to track whether training and assessment activities are achieving the desired benefits.

Click here to read the full Bangladesh Baseline Worker Survey Report.