04/21/2008, 00.00
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In Bangladesh, the "homemade" problem of workplace safety

Factory owners and authorities are not guaranteeing safety standards, and each year thousands die and even more are injured. Workers use plastic bags and rags to protect their legs and feet from frequent burns.

Dhaka (AsiaNews) - Factory owners are failing to ensure safety standards; the authorities make laws, but do not monitor their enforcement. So workers in Bangladesh try to take care of themselves: in the morning, before going to work, the men and women wrap their legs and feet in old rags and bags to protect themselves from the heat of the steel foundries, or from the burns that could be caused by the explosion of a boiler, one of the leading reasons for accidents. The desperate measures of the Bangladeshi labourers are recounted by the national newspaper The Daily Times.

The newspaper reports that these workers understand that their "precautions" are worth little in the case of an accident, but they have no other means of protecting themselves. There were 1,768 workplace casualties in Bangladesh in 2007. Less publicised, but more numerous, were those injured: more than 2,000. The most dangerous factories are those for textiles, rice mills, and steel re-rolling mills. According to data from the Occupational Safety, Health and Environment Foundation, last year there were 40 explosions in the rice mills alone. At the moment, it does not seem that the government is interested in adopting serious measures, and no state agency is demanding any inspections of places at risk. According to the laws in effect, the government's "boiler inspection office" inspects boilers of sugar mills, textile plants, cement factories, hotels and hospitals. "Furnace chimneys of re-rolling steel mills don't have any steam pressure boilers", explains an agency official. "So we don't inspect those".

The same official, cited anonymously by The Daily Times, says that his department has only four inspectors to monitor 6,000 boilers registered in the country.  The office also has just 13 other inspectors divided into three categories: general, mechanical safety, and health.  In all, there are 14,000 factories under supervision, including 5,000 textile mills between Dhaka and Narayanganj alone.

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