Dawn News

Drawing lessons from factory fire

EACH one of us across Pakistan is gravely sad over the Lahore and Karachi fire incidents. The loss is irreparable.

Each one of us is responsible for this colossal loss of lives. First let me highlight another important aspect, as to what did we learn in the past, when there happened a similar incident at Ghakkarr Plaza, Rawalpindi.

What did we do when in Lahore, this year only, there was a big boiler blast that took the lives of more than two dozen people?

Did we change our attitudes when there were big fires in the Liberty Market of Lahore in two to three big department stores?

Did we ever ask the buildings departments in Lahore, Karachi, Rawapindi, etc, to check the plans of the buildings, the quality of construction, and finally if the completion of the building is in accordance with the approved plan, and in which all the bye-laws, rules and regulations have been strictly adhered to?

Keeping aside the above, on which numerous more examples could be quoted, with bits and pieces, on the quality of materials used, i.e., cables, wires, electrical fittings, etc., more importantly the layout/plan for which the building is being used, i.e., its appropriateness for the purpose it was planned.

We need to find out if precautionary measures were also taken to ensure provision of emergency exits, fire-fighting gadgets, training to workers to combat emergencies, provision of doctors, paramedics and emergency medicines/ first-aid kits, specially if there are more than 15 to 20 workers.

Further, we need to find out if precautionary steps also included provision of professional kits and uniforms, specially if use of inflammable and other dangerous chemicals and materials is anticipated, etc.

Now, let’s come back to the point as to why we all are responsible for the incidents. We are, I repeat we are responsible, because we did not learn from the past. We did not try to learn, unfortunately. This is the main responsibility, ie our own.

We are also responsible, because: we let the illegal construction go on in our own neighbourhood; we ourselves ‘plan’ and construct the buildings without a proper plan, in which our intention is to complete the construction in the least possible time involving minimum possible funds; we don't let the authorities visit our premises, with the fear that our illegalities and our building violations will be noticed; we, as authority/ government, close our eyes so that we don’t see the violations.

We also expect rewards on this attitude. We, as political- government, close our eyes just to ensure we keep on getting funds for the next elections.

We don't report illegal commercial or industrial activity in our neighbourhood, because we are scared to report or indifferent to the situation. We are not sensible or sensitive enough to ascertain the adverse effects of the misuse of residential area.

So we are again responsible as a common man. We are responsible as government if we did not notice the need for proper equipment for our fire-fighting brigade.

We are responsible as MNA or MPA, if we did not do proper legislation to ensure safety of workers and the work place.

We are responsible as owners of factories if we also did not arrange for a safe workplace.

The government as a whole, as a system, is responsible as it could not ensure proper supply of electricity, which made the factory go for unsafe mode of power supply, i.e., generators, which malfunctioned and most probably caused accidents.

Let's forget, for a while, who is responsible. Let's try to focus what are the reasons. Let's take it as a lesson so that none of us will repeat the mistake, as owner, as worker, as legislator, as government and as an observer. Ih dinas siratal mustaqeem. Ameen.


Existing industries

ALL existing industries should be re-visited properly by relevant authorities and all security and safety measures should be ensured.

Legislation should be done for the welfare of working people in which life insurance of all workers should be made mandatory for all industries. Workers should be allowed to form trade unions where they can raise their concern and get their work recognised.


Safety engineering

THERE is no degree course on safety engineering offered in any university in Pakistan and I wonder how safety inspectors and safety personnel could be produced without a degree in safety engineering.

After visiting several factories I found that safety majors in several factories hardly matter and safety certificates are issued in exchange for money and gifts which is an example of corruption at the grassroots level. I ask the authorities the following questions:

When was the last clearance for security issued to the garment factory and by whom?

Who were the persons who visited the factory for security check?

When were the equipment like fire-extinguisher, washing fountain, sirens, and sensors for fire last checked?

What was the checklist of the security majors and this should made public?

What was the assessment of the safety evaluation team, which should be publicly disclosed?

The persons who were found guilty of the breach of basic security majors given above should be prosecuted and the Chief Justice Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhary should use his powers to identify the persons responsible for such a national disaster.

This is an eye-opener for other factories and the government of Sindh. Influential people are hardly punished in Pakistan but I hope this time an exception can be made. With my experience in Aramco, Saudi Arabia, I will be happy and render any services free of charge if asked by the governor.

Fortunately, I am in Pakistan these days. I hope this matter would not be hushed up by routine announcements of compensation to the families as is the usual government practice to hush up the matter. There should be a solution for the future.


American law

TWIN tragic factory fire incidents on 9/11 show how workers in Pakistan are at great risk to earn the bread and butter for their families. Fire in a shoe factory in Lahore took the lives of 22 workers and another fire in a garment factory in Karachi is the worst-ever industrial incident in Pakistan’s history which has so far taken the lives of around 289 workers. Factories in Pakistan are running without maintaining even minimum safety standards for the protection of their manpower and assets.

The unfortunate garment factory in Karachi, where around 2,000 workers used to work, did not have any simple fire-fighting equipment and even it was without exit doors.

More or less all factories in Pakistan are running without any safety culture in place. Who is the responsible for the irreparable looses due to these tragic fire incidents, without any doubt government officials who for the sake of their vested interests keep their eyes closed and let poor workers work in very unsafe circumstances.

Until 1970 there were no national laws for safety and health hazards in the US, hence on average 15 workers died every day from job injuries, and over 5,600 Americans died from workplace injuries annually.

In 1970, the US Congress created occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) agency under the Occupational Safety and Health Act, signed by President Richard M. Nixon. Its mission is to prevent work-related injuries, illnesses, and occupational fatality by issuing and enforcing standards for workplace safety and health. After implementing OSHA laws and regulations, the industrial arena in the US is the safest place for their workers. Time has come to revise and implement industrial safety standards in Pakistan, otherwise fatal incidents would be unavoidable.


Pathetic situation

AS a professional in the field I had the opportunity of going through the fire control arrangements at a few factories at Lahore and Karachi and these were just pathetic.

Starting from the location of the factories, layout plans, fire prevention and control, fire-fighting, emergency exits, control on flammable material, etc., everything was nowhere near the required standards.

Reports were prepared for improving things but no action was taken. There is hardly any regard for legal requirements, be it Factories Act, Civil Defence Rules, building rules and many others which are violated in connivance with government officials.

Much activity is initiated after a disastrous happening like these two events but only for a while, perhaps waiting for another tragedy and loss of precious lives to happen.

It is just criminal. The government is equally to blame but I would also request the trade associations like the FPCCI, local chambers of commerce and industrty and Aptma to self-discipline their members to implement safeguards for preventing such calamities.

Multinationals here have done it, why can’t our own industries do it? Such disasters are going to multiply if we do not take proactive measures now.

Giving sympathetc statements or doling out a few lakh rupees to the affected families may generate some political mileage but is not going to solve the problem.

M. Y. QURESHI Lahore

Comments (1) Closed

Sep 16, 2012 04:14pm
There is nothing more to add,to what already has been said. Most of the Industrialist,Labour Dept and Civil Defence Official r interested under the table income.This will continue till some exemplary action is taken against the defaulters.To begin with cant the concerned assemblies make it mandatory to the Industrialist to employ a qualified SAFTEY OFFICER and his staff in their Industries,secondly a case be registered under sec 302 against the owners. and the concerned personnel of the a/m depts.