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Half of apparel workers live in disaster fears: Alliance

Moinul Haque

Almost a half of apparel workers in Bangladesh are worried about safety in their work place and think that they could not be able to leave the factory buildings quickly in emergencies, according to a half-yearly report of the Alliance for Bangladesh Worker Safety.
Alliance, a platform of North American apparel brands set up after the Rana Plaza building collapse, conducted a worker baseline survey on more than 3,200 workers in 28 factories in November–December 2013 and came up with he finding hat 30 per cent of the workers think that there is a high risk of fire in their factory buildings.
Ten focus groups did off-site interviews with 101 respondents in three regions to obtain more detailed information on fire and health and safety issues.
In July 2013, the North American apparel companies set up Alliance for Bangladesh Worker Safety, a five-year initiative to improve safety condition for workers in Bangladesh. Alliance made the survey report public on January 30.
Alliance reported on the progress achieved against its commitments for the first six months and said that it had already inspected 222 factories, accounting for 31 per cent of the factories on its list.
‘In order to avoid duplication, the Alliance committee of experts is now conducting an independent analysis of those inspections to evaluate their compliance with the Alliance standards,’ the report said.
The report said that qualified inspectors will re-inspect factories that have failed to meet the standards.
Alliance said that there were about 700 factories, employing about 1.28 million workers, from which North American companies were buying clothes.
Alliance said that all its member factories in Bangladesh would face fire safety, structural and electrical inspections in the assessment of compliance with Alliance fire and building safety standards by July 2014.
‘Inspections will then prompt action plans to be used by factories to improve safety conditions for garment workers, and remediation will begin when necessary,’ the report added.
Focusing on the worker baseline survey, the report said that the primary purpose of the survey and off-site interviews was to better understand the current level of awareness of health and safety risks and what workers believe needs to be done to improve safety and reduce risk.
The respondents were selected randomly from factories that had not received training provided or sponsored by Alliance member companies and it was anonymous.
Sixty-five per cent of the workers in focus groups indicated that they would prefer to work on a low floor for safety reasons and 27 per cent felt that they were not trained sufficiently in how to save themselves in emergencies.
The survey found that workers were not fully aware of fire risks and the importance of fire safety measures; and 57 per cent of the workers thought that evacuation drills and safety training should be avoided during peak seasons.
‘Despite being 80 per cent of the garment factory work force, female workers tend to have a lower level of knowledge than their male counterparts. They are also less active in health and safety committee activities, contacting worker representatives and voicing their concerns,’ the report said.
The findings showed that 49 per cent of workers aged between 14 and 17 years thought that their job would negatively impact their health at least to some extent.
‘I believe that such kind of problems exist in the garment sector in Bangladesh but the data used in the survey report are debatable,’ Md Fazlur Rahman, president of the Bangladesh Employers’ Federation, told New Age.
He said that Alliance had made a commitment to ensuring safety in the Bangladesh apparel sector as they are also aware of the problems and this is the time they worked together.
Fazlur, also a former president of the Bangladesh Knitwear Manufacturers and Exporters’ Association, said that recent factory disasters had proved that the training of workers was not sufficient and workers needed effective training.

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