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Garment Factory Boiler Explosion in Bangladesh Kills 1, Injures 5

A woman has died and five people are injured after an explosion at a sweater factory outside the Bangladesh capital of Dhaka Tuesday morning.

Rima Khatun, 20, was walking by Natural Sweater Village when a boiler blast caused the wall of the tin-shed structure to collapse on her, killing her instantly. Other pedestrians caught in the explosion were admitted to nearby hospitals and are in recovery.

Local media reports say Khatun worked at Murad Apparels Limited, a neighboring readymade garment factory. Engineers from the Accord on Fire and Building Safety in Bangladesh, investigating the premises after the accident, found evidence of gas leaks in non-compliant gas cylinders and issues with the burner control boxes used to fuel two boilers in the factory. The three boilers were not damaged by the explosion, the Accord noted, but the accident has severely weakened the structure of the gas-supply room and caused damage to electrical wiring and cables in the area.

Accord signatories linked to the factory, including H&M and Next, have requested that Natural Sweater Village evacuate the factory until structural and electrical remediations can be completed and verified.

The Accord’s inspection scope, it said in a statement, is fire, electrical and structural safety, but its signatories “acknowledge the importance of incorporating additional prevention measures to the scope of work, such as boiler safety inspections.”

It’s been a grim week for South Asia’s factory workers. At least 43 workers died in a fire at a bag factory in Delhi, India on Sunday.

An eyewitness said some workers had tried to escape from a terrace but it was locked. The factory reportedly had just one entrance, along with a single internal stairway that connected the 20 rooms on each floor. Asphyxiation was a leading cause of death, said Sunil Choudhary, deputy chief fire officer.

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The fire was India’s deadliest since 59 moviegoers died in a cinema in 1997, local reports noted. A police spokesperson told Reuters that both the owner and a manager of the factory have been arrested.

On Wednesday afternoon, a blaze at an illegal plastics factory on the outskirts of Dhaka killed eight people and injured two dozen others. One person burned to death on the spot, and of the 33 workers who were critically burned, seven later died in Dhaka Medical College Hospital, local police chief Shah Zaman told AFP.

The accidents in India and Bangladesh have renewed conversations over the necessity of agreements such as the Accord, which legally committed 200 mostly European brands to improve factory conditions after a building collapse near Dhaka killed more than 1,130 workers in 2013. Labor groups in Pakistan, too, have called for a Pakistan Accord.

But the Bangladesh Accord was always set to expire, and the Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers & Exporters Association, a trade group of factory owners, has consistently voiced a desire to steer its own factory safety and compliance operations. An RMG Sustainability Council—a “tripartite platform” of apparel makers, buyers and labor-rights groups—is poised to take over workplace safety monitoring by May 2020.

Earlier this month, an organization by the name of Nirapon, meant to supplant the duties of the North American-led Alliance for Bangladesh Worker Safety, which had less stringent demands, lost its appeal against a court order temporarily banning it following complaints from BGMEA members about another safety monitoring group. The High Court in Dhaka has asked Nirapon to explain why it shouldn’t be ordered to join the RMG Sustainability Council.