Companies and safety initiatives like the Accord on Fire and Building Safety in Bangladesh may be fighting the good fight on fire safety, but it seems they may have left out boiler inspections—and that oversight could have contributed to the death of 10 garment factory workers.
On Monday night, a boiler explosion at Multifabs garment factory in Gazipur, Bangladesh, killed 10 people and injured dozens more. According to Reuters, the blast reportedly occurred while technicians were performing repairs ahead of the factory’s reopening after Eid holidays.
“I heard a big bang when I was having tea outside,” factory driver Hafiz Mostafa told Reuters. “I saw windows, doors, glasses, machinery and a section of the wall of the building go flying.”
According to Multifabs chairman Mahiuddin Faruqui, the factory’s six-year-old boiler had recently been serviced and was running “well,” and once technicians had serviced it and were starting it back up, the explosion occurred.
Multifabs specializes in knits, largely for European clients like Lindex, Rex|Holm, Newbody and Aldi, according to its website, and also offers organic cotton product. The company has been making as many as 100,000 garments a day, bringing in $6 million in monthly revenue, and it employed 6,000 workers. According to its website, Multifabs “maintains eco-friendly living around its factory base. It conforms to all ILO standards applicable in the country. Multifabs Ltd. is WRAP certified.”
It’s also Accord-certified and has undergone the Accord’s vigorous inspections. In 2015, the Accord called Multifabs out for not having its boiler separated by fire-rated construction (designed to quell the spread of the fire), but the initiative’s latest corrective action plan for Multifabs noted the issue as having been sorted.
“Early morning on July 4, 2017, the Accord dispatched of a team of fire, electrical, and structural engineers to conduct a post-explosion inspection at the Multifabs facility,” the Accord said in a statement Wednesday. “The reports of the Accord engineers will be completed as a matter of highest priority and are expected to provide more detail on what happened, the level of damage, and what will be required regarding repairs.”
Workers’ rights organizations, which have been on Bangladesh for its safety issues, in particular since the Rana Plaza factory collapsed in 2013, killing more than 1,100 people, said there are still “enormous amounts” of work remaining to improve safety in Bangladesh’s garment sector.
“The explosion at the non-unionized Multifabs factory highlights the urgent need to address boiler safety in garment and textile factories in Bangladesh,” IndustriALL Global Union said in a statement Tuesday. “As a factory covered under the Bangladesh Accord on Fire and Building Safety, Multifabs has been inspected by Accord engineers. It had completed fire separation of the boiler room, and all other fire and structural safety renovations, except for installation of sprinklers. The Accord does not cover boiler inspections, which are monitored by the Bangladesh government.”
The Accord, which was just renewed for a second term in Bangladesh to continue improving safety in the country’s main export center, confirmed that the fire separation was in fact corrected, however, it added, “A fire separation (fire rated construction with fully protected and sealed opening) does not address the issue of a boiler explosion.”
[Read more about what the new Accord will look like: Renewed Bangladesh Accord Expected to Maintain Supply Chain Safety]
Bangladesh’s chief boiler inspector told Reuters Multifabs’ boiler had been inspected a year ago and was due up for another inspection this month.
Considering the new necessity, the Accord said it will evaluate whether it can expand its inspection program to include boilers.