A fire and explosion in southeastern Bangladesh over the weekend which left more than 40 dead, has prompted the UN’s labour agency, ILO, to urge workplaces throughout the country to address safety shortcomings.

ILO expressed its deep sadness over the loss of life, which included nine fire fighters, after chemical-filled containers combusted, one after another, around midnight on Saturday, at the BM Container Depot.

According to news reports, the death toll was revised down after some bodies were counted twice, and hundreds are still listed as missing or injured, with the toll expected to rise.

The cause of the fire near the main Chittagong Seaport, southeast of the capital, Dhaka, was not immediately determined, but Bangladeshi officials on Monday reportedly said containers of hydrogen peroxide were incorrectly labelled, and firefighters used water instead of foam, to extinguish the blaze.

Reports also suggest the chemicals at the plant, were not stored safely.

Increase collaboration

This incident illustrates the urgent need to ensure proper handling and storage of chemicals, proper training for storage facility staff at awareness and operational levels, and effective crowd control during an emergency incident,” ILO said in a statement.

It also underscores the importance of an effective industrial and enterprise safety framework; vigilant enforcement; and a training system to ensure a structured approach to “mitigation, preparedness, response, and recovery” to all hazards.

ILO explained that this will require “improved collaboration and partnership” between government departments, employers and workers representatives, and civil society.

Refining safety

Moving forward, multiple actions are required across various of areas, including a review of regulations and enforcement in the transport and logistics sector.

Adequate compensation and income support must also be provided to injured and disabled workers and the families of those who die in work-related accidents.

ILO also called for improved safety campaigns targeting transport, logistics and emergency-service providers.

Recently government, employer and worker representatives have agreed to roll out a comprehensive Employment Injury Scheme, beginning with the ready-made garment sector and possibly extending to other sectors, according to ILO.

The system includes accident prevention, immediate and long-term compensation, and rehabilitation to return to work.

Improving conditions

Meanwhile, ILO recalled the 2013 Rana Plaza tragedy when a garment factory in an eight-story commercial building collapsed in the Savar Upazila of Dhaka District, saying that since then, it has continued to work closely with the Government of Bangladesh, employers’ and workers’ organizations and development partners to improve working conditions in all industries.

The proper governmental monitoring of industries to ensure that industrial and accidental risks are properly understood, addressed and prevented is essential to improving safe working conditions in Bangladesh, ILO spelled out.

ILO and the broader UN system in Bangladesh hopes that this tragic accident will drive all parties involved to apply renewed vigour in addressing the safety deficits in workplaces across the country and we extend our assistance to continue to build safer Bangladesh for all,” the statement said.

ILO extended its heartfelt condolences to the families of the injured and deceased and offered solidarity and assistance to build a safer Bangladesh for all.

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