The plastic factory which was razed by a devastating fire in Dhaka claiming lives of at least 13 people was illegal, measurably lacked safety measures and notorious for unlawful activities, including employing child workers. The authorities of Prime Pet and Plastic Industries Limited at Chunkutia of Keraniganj did not even comply with the fire service directives issued two months back over its serious lapses in safety measures.
Workers and locals complained that the authorities, who employed nearly 200 workers, continued operation in a rundown tin-shed house in a residential area by ‘managing’ the government agencies despite repeated fire incidents in last four years with minor casualties and loses. Department of Inspection for Factories and Establishment’s deputy inspector general Ahmed Belal said that the factory management could not show any approval or valid document when inspectors visited the factory two months ago.
Ahmed Belal said that inspectors had formally asked the factory to produce one-time plastic products to ensure compliant. He said that they found 22 female and 48 male workers engaged in the factory during the visit. “The deadly incident could be avoided if the government agencies played their role,” said local Member of the Parliament and power and energy state minister Nasrul Hamid. Labour and employment ministry secretary KM Ali Azam, however, said that an inspection team of his ministry had fined the factory for non-compliance on November 5.
They also filed a case against the factory. This correspondent tried to contact factory managing director Md Nazrul Islam over phone and the newspaper reporter went to his house, but he was not available. Prime Pet and Plastic Industries Limited worker Manju Begum said that she and 170 to 180 workers were in the factory when fire broke out.
“Fire originated at gas room and the injured were trying to control the fire as they did in the past,” she said on Thursday morning. During spot visit, this correspondent found over 30 gas cylinders scattered in the tin-shed factory and huge milted plastic at the storeroom just beside the room for storing gas cylinders.
Factory security officer Md Babor Ali said that all the female workers left the factory after the fire. “Workers and four officials of the factory sustained burn injury as they try to control fire for saving goods and machineries,” he said. Workers said that there were at least 10 child labours including Robin Khan, Jisan, Rayhan, Rabiul and Bijoy, all were between 12 to 15 years.
They said that to give lower wage the factory management employed child labourers especially at recycling and loading sections. Dhaka Medical College Hospital burn unit physician AFM Ariful Islam Nobin said that among the injured Ryhan died in the hospital as Jihan and Asad were undergoing treatment.
Fire Service deputy director and also member secretary of the five-member investigation committee Abul Hossain said that primarily assumed that the cylinders exploded when workers were trying to stop gas leakage. The factory did not have proper safety measures and enough doors for emergency exit.
Local people alleged that the government agencies deliberately remained inactive against the illegal factory and nearly 100 more in the area for years. Shramik Nirapatta Forum at a statement asked the government to ensure safety of the workers in workplaces. Local people said that at least 10 workers suffered minor burns during a fire in the factory in last February; just days after a fatal fire at Chawkbazar in Dhaka killed at least 70 people on February 20. A month later another fire at Banani in Dhaka killed at least 26 people.