Bangladeshi authorities are being urged to prepare for an enhanced building and fire safety role

Bangladeshi authorities are being urged to prepare for an enhanced building and fire safety role

Authorities in Bangladesh have been urged to start making plans to ensure building and fire safety in the ready-made garment industry is upheld once the current support from external stakeholders comes to an end.

Among the outstanding challenges are infrastructure issues, unregulated buildings and traffic congestion, as well as gaps in the current legislation.

"We all recognise that responsibility to ensure a safe ready-made garment sector lies in the hands of the relevant government authorities here in Bangladesh," Srinivas Reddy, ILO country director, told a workshop on Tuesday (16 September).

The International Labour Organization (ILO), international donors, the Accord, Alliance and the Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology (BUET) are currently providing support through inspections and training.

But "we need to look at what comes next and prepare for the day when the authorities are able to carry out this role with confidence and to international standards without donor or industry support," Reddy said.

The workshop on 'Institutional Collaboration on Strengthening Building and Fire Safety Inspection Systems in the RMG Sector' heard that Bangladesh needs to ready its institutional, regulatory and oversight mechanisms relating to building and fire safety to ensure a safe working environment in the garment sector.

Brig Gen Ali Ahmed Kham, director general of the Fire Service and Civil Defense Department, highlighted the need for the fire service and fire safety regulations to be updated in line with internationally acceptable standards.

"We have taken a lot of measures to improve fire safety but still many challenges remain such as water and equipment shortages, unregulated buildings and traffic congestion," he explained, adding: "We must take more preventative measures and increase the number of fire stations in RMG areas.

"We must also work in a coordinated effort to enhance coordination and ensure better enforcement of fire safety regulations," he said.

Meanwhile, Syed Ahmed, inspector general of the Department of Inspection for Factories and Establishments (DIFE), said that addressing "the gaps and overlaps in the current legislative and policy environment" is also key.

"We must also put in motion a process to develop a common assessment regime that will greatly benefit the government, employers and workers of Bangladesh," he said.

The workshop was jointly organised by the Government of Bangladesh as well as two International Labour Organization (ILO) initiatives: the Improving Fire and General Building Safety in Bangladesh project funded by the US Department of Labor and the Improving Working Conditions in the RMG sector Programme funded by Canada, the Netherlands and the UK.

There are an estimated 3,500 ready-made garment export factories in operation in Bangladesh, providing employment for over 4.2m workers. Industry exports totalled $21.5bn in 2012-2013, making Bangladesh one of the world's leading apparel exporters.