COMING as does on the heels of a factory fire in Karachi’s Baldia Town that killed at least 258 people, the inferno that decimated another factory in SITE over the Eidul Azha holidays was a stark reminder of how unprepared the authorities remain. While it was a relief that no loss of life was reported, it should be noted — as witnessed earlier — that fires at such locations can spread at a horrifying pace and prove very difficult to bring under control. The fire fighters that first reached the scene realised that they would be unable to contain the situation, which rapidly reached the level of a third-degree inferno — no doubt partly because of the highly flammable contents of the warehouse. An SOS resulted in fire tenders arriving there from across the city, including PAF fire tenders from the nearby Masroor Airbase. Even so, it took around 30 hours to contain the blaze, with the fire fighters finally leaving when it was feared that the building would collapse.

That there was no loss of life was sheer providence and not a result of any safety measures being put in place. Hundreds of people worked in the building, and had the fire broken out during a working day rather than on Eid weekend, when it was empty, the possibility of another catastrophic event could not have been ruled out. In the wake of the September incident, vociferous commitments were made by various administrative quarters to concentrate on improving safety standards in industrial units and to reinstate the factory inspection process. A little over a month later, however, the matter seems to have been swept off the radar. While legal proceedings against that factory’s owners are under way, the much more crucial issue of rendering workplaces safe and ensuring the availability of adequate escape routes, fire extinguishers and fire hydrants etc is not receiving due consideration.

For obvious reasons, the importance of protecting workers, whether at industrial units or elsewhere, cannot be overemphasised. Wherever people find employment, it is the employers’ duty to ensure that neither life nor limb is at risk, and the responsibility of the state apparatus to make certain that rules and regulations are followed. Safety standards in general are lax in Pakistan, and the state does little to intervene. In order to alter this trajectory, a pressure lobby needs to be built up in society, with the aim of not just prompting the administration to act but also to raise the workers’ awareness level. Strong unions could have a much-needed effect in this regard.

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Comments (4)

Ilyas khan
October 30, 2012 11:40 am
It is absolutely true that the first step, to regulate peace and enforce rule of law, the very first responsibility falls on a person itself. Govt is not responsible for each and every act, although it is true that some normal event would be made politically just to gain the trust of the people. i would like to say that "Hum Awamm hi mujrim hai" all of the responsibility lies on the authorities of the factory..
Gopal Patel
October 30, 2012 5:16 am
In the subcontinent, the political culture is same.The government is never concerned with the safety of people,because it does not have to answer any one for their sins of commission or omission.
jalaluddin S. Hussain
October 30, 2012 4:27 am
What is the reason of this insensitivity, on every front? Do we value human lives and respect properties?
Ashish Kumar
October 30, 2012 11:59 am
When you put proper mechanism to get control over this kind of situation the damage can be minimize which includes Human life and Property both. In some scenario loss of properties result into human life too because lively hood of many people depends on these properties. And in last you can create some job by employing the people to look after this kind of tragedy.
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