The fire occurred in a sweater factory in Ashulia

The fire occurred in a sweater factory in Ashulia

Bangladesh's Accord on Fire and Building Safety has identified critical structural and electrical damage following a fire at a sweater factory in Bangladesh that supplies major brands including Next and H&M.

It has also advised that parts of the factory must remain shut until urgent remediation work has been carried out.

The fire broke out at Natural Sweater Village Ltd (NSVL) in the Goripur area of Ashulia, near the capital Dhaka last Tuesday (10 December) and resulted in one death and several injuries. According to The Daily Star, which cites an announcement from the DEPZ fire station, a wall of the tin-shed structure of the factory collapsed when a gas heater exploded at around 7:45am.

BD-check.com, which publishes data on Bangladesh companies with information derived from public records and government data, says the factory employs 1,749 workers, of whom 612 are male and 1137 female. The company is also one of the exporters listed with the Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers Exporter Association (BGMEA), and according to the Bangladesh Accord had completed both its Initial CAP (corrective action plan) and a safety training programme.

It also appears on the supplier lists of fashion retailers Next and H&M.

Brand response

A spokesperson for Next told just-style the factory was compliant with Next safety standards and was last inspected in June 2019. It had also been inspected by the Bangladesh Accord engineers before the explosion, and it was compliant with their standards. The Accord engineers re-visited the site after the incident, and have issued an initial report that has made recommendations for the safety of the site following the damage.

"Next remains fully engaged with the incident and any recommendation or call for further support. Next is confident that its standards and processes are robust to protect workers in Bangladesh – and that the work it undertakes fully aligns to the Bangladesh Accord's standards. This incident will not change Next's commitment to the Bangladesh market."

H&M told just-style: "We are deeply sorry to hear about the tragic accident and our thoughts go to those affected. The Accord is in charge of the investigation and our team in Bangladesh is monitoring the situation closely as safety of the workers at our suppliers' factories is a top priority for us."

Investigation

The Accord says that following the "boiler-related gas explosion" at the factory, its engineers found critical structural and electrical damage, and have advised that the areas affected by the explosion must be evacuated until the factory has completed urgent safety remediation.

"The Accord engineers that investigated the premises after the accident found evidence of gas leaks in non-compliant gas cylinders and problems with the burner control box used to fuel two boilers in the factory. The boiler room containing the three boilers utilised in the factory is located in another area of the factory. The three boilers were not damaged by the explosion.

"The explosion has severely weakened the structure of the gas supply room area and caused damage to electrical cables and wiring in this area. The relevant Accord signatories have requested that NSVL immediately evacuate the gas supply and fabric/yarn warehouse areas of the factory until urgent structural and electrical remediation work is completed and verified by the Accord engineers.

"Accord engineers will follow-up and support NSVL to ensure these urgent remedial measures are correctly identified and completed."

In a statement, the BGMEA said: "The incident occurred due to a leakage in the gas source. This is most unfortunate and it underscores the importance of safe gas connection, routine monitoring along with the most critical requirement of infrastructural support from the government, including uninterrupted supply of gas to units which are languishing and are forced to resort to alternative and unrecognized source for supply of the same."

The news comes days after a fire broke out at a bag factory in Delhi in India killing 43 workers, and has led to renewed calls for enforcement of factory fire and building safety regulations. Earlier this year, a pilot programme commissioned by signatories of the Accord on Fire and Building Safety in Bangladesh to explore boiler safety at readymade garment (RMG) factories in the country found defects in all 35 inspected boilers.

Last month Nirapon, Bangladesh's newest safety monitoring initiative and a successor to the former Alliance for Bangladesh Worker Safety, was ordered to halt operations for six months.

But a spokesperson for Nirapon tells just-style that every minute it is unable to implement its mandate threatens the safety of workers. "Worker safety remains our paramount concern. We remain highly concerned about the accidents in RMG (ready-made garment) units that are being reported every day, including the one that took an RMG worker's life earlier this week."

The American Apparel and Footwear Association (AAFA), which represents US apparel retailers and importers, also wrote to Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina Wazed to express its concern at the Nirapon suspension.

"Efforts to ensure worker's safety cannot be stopped," it said. "Halting Nirapon's work not only puts millions of lives at risk but undermines brands' confidence that the great progress made in Bangladesh on worker safety will be sustained today, tomorrow, and well into the future."

Boiler safety at Bangladesh ready-made garment (RMG) factories remains a major issue, with an investigation commissioned by Bangladesh Accord signatories finding defects in all 35 boilers that were inspected.