Inspections are due to begin today (22 November) on at least 2,000 garment factories in Bangladesh to assess their structural integrity and fire and electrical safety.

The inspections will cover those facilities that are not already part of two separate initiatives by retailers and brands in Europe and North America to audit all their supplier factories in the country.

They are to go ahead after the various groups working to improve conditions in the country's clothing sector this week said they had agreed a common set of standards against which the assessments will be carried out.

Assessments will be carried out by the Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology (BUET).

"The agreement forms a major breakthrough which will help ensure the safety of all workers in the garment industry in Bangladesh and prevent tragic events like Tazreen and Rana Plaza from happening again," said Labour Secretary Mr Mikail Shipar.

"No worker in Bangladesh should die because of unsafe work places."

The assessments are being led by the government-backed National Tripartite Action Plan on Building and Fire Safety - which is working with employer and worker groups and the International Labour Organization (ILO).

Srinivas Reddy, ILO country director, described the adoption of safety standards and harmonised guidelines as a "significant development to improve safety and working conditions in the garment industry in Bangladesh."

The National Tripartite Committee was set up in response to the fire at Tazreen Fashion last November and the collapse of the Rana Plaza building in April - which between them led to the loss of more than 1,200 lives.

However, a preliminary inspection report on 70 ready-made garment units earlier this year found just six to be in sound condition - illustrating the unique size of the task facing Bangladesh as it tries to rebuild its reputation on the global stage.

There are also concerns that Bangladesh's Ministry of Labor is struggling to recruit the 200 factory inspectors it requires.

Separately, the Alliance for Bangladesh Worker Safety, which represents North American brands and retailers, is starting to inspect 686 member factories.

And the largely European-led Accord on Fire and Building Safety, meanwhile, is focusing on nearly 1,600 Bangladesh factories used by its members. Around half of the facilities overlap.

These two groups are offering funds and assistance with remedial action - including the relocation and rebuilding of unsafe factories - and have set a timeframe to see all their supplier factories inspected within the next nine months to one-year.