KARACHI: The death of over 300 workers in the two factories of Lahore and Karachi was not accidental. It was a deliberate, planned and tripartite collusion between employers, corrupt and incompetent government departments and the dishonourable political leaders of Punjab and Sindh. In 2003, the Punjab government banned labour inspections and the current Sindh chief minister followed suit after coming into power. This was confirmed by the Sindh labour minister and the Pakistan Institute of Labour Education and Research.
Both factories were not registered as required by the Factories Act of 1934. The law requires registration to be revalidated each year, which was never done as there was no registration to start with. Both factories failed to comply with the most basic fire precautions listed under Article 25 of the Factories Act of 1934. Every factory must provide means of escape in case of fire. The exit doors must never be locked. The doors and routes for exit should be clearly marked. An effective siren system should be provided. The passage to each means of escape should be free of all obstructions. Workers should be trained on emergency procedures and emergency evacuation drills should be carried out. Ample supply of water at sufficient pressure to reach all parts of the factory should be made possible. Fire extinguishers and sand buckets should be provided. Factories with more than one floor should have a main and an alternative set of stairs. Not required by law, but a common sense requirement should be to also have a system of knowing the number of persons inside a factory and a head count process to determine if everyone has been evacuated. For this reason alone, we will never know the true number of people who died in the Karachi fire.
The current political and bureaucratic system is too corrupt and incompetent to be resurrected and could well be sent for dismantling. Unless we create a new and professional occupational health and safety administration in the country, our factories will continue to act like death traps for the helpless and economically trapped labour force of Pakistan.
Published in The Express Tribune, September 15th, 2012.
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