Factory fire: The inspectors said that the building was safe

How could they have not seen that the room was practically caged, as if the workers were animals in a zoo?

Rabia Ali September 18, 2012
Eight hours after flames from the Baldia Town garment factory fire had been doused, the top floor of the building was still simmering. It is here that the highest number of deaths had taken place.

Around 200 people had screamed for help and had tried to look for a way to escape, but to no avail. The only door was on fire, while the windows were too small to let the air in, resulting in people dying of suffocation. Only three people on the floor managed to come out alive after rescue workers tore through one of the small grilled windows.

Recently, a story in the International Herald Tribune made a startling revelation. A month ago, inspectors of a US-based organisation that monitors workplaces had inspected the ill-fated Ali Enterprises building. After the inspection, the inspectors had claimed that the factory met safety requirements. As the owners already knew about the visit in advance, they had removed the locks on the emergency exits.

But how could the inspectors, who spent four days at the factory, overlook the barriers at the top floor?

How could they have not seen that the room was practically caged, as if the workers were not humans but animals in a zoo?

How could they have overlooked the fact that the windows were barred by iron grills? How could they have ignored the working environment that the factory employees were subjected to, which consisted of minimal sunlight and fresh air? Why did they not raise objections at the presence of only one door on the top floor and why did they not foresee the difficulties that could and eventually did arise, of escaping, in case of disaster?

Admittedly, there were a few impressive aspects about the Ali Enterprises building. A fire evacuation map was pinned near the main gate. There were fire extinguishers in every room. There were very few child labourers. But was all this enough for the inspectors, who certified that the factory was a decent workplace? All the criticism that is directed at the owners, the government, the rescue workers and the firefighting department is justified. But the role of these inspectors must also not be overlooked. Their action, or lack of it, also played a part in this heart-rending tragedy.

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Rabia Ali
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