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Two Garment Workers Die in Bangladesh After Boiler Accident

Two workers from a dye house just outside Bangladesh’s capital of Dhaka have died after sustaining burns from a boiler accident.

The incident, which took place earlier this month at SDS Yarn Dyeing Factory in the Kuturia area of Savar’s Ashulia, injured a total of four people after scalding water from a boiler spilled on them in what local media has described as a “freak accident.”

Rashedul Islam and Hasan Ali were admitted to Enam Medical College and Hospital with burns over 60 percent of their bodies. They were later moved to the Sheikh Hasina National Institute of Burn and Plastic Surgery in Dhaka, where they succumbed to their injuries.

SDS Yarn Dyeing Factory, which does not appear to be covered under the Accord for Fire and Building Safety in Bangladesh, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Boiler safety is an increasingly contentious issue in Bangladesh’s $34 billion garment industry. Inspections of boilers for explosion risk are not included in the original remit of the Accord, which emerged after the 2013 collapse of the Rana Plaza building killed 1,134 garment workers and injured thousands more. Instead, the Accord only stipulates that the boiler room be separated from the rest of the factory with fire-rated construction.

Labor groups have long criticized what they have described as a deficiency in the agreement, saying the only way to fully guard against the possibility of a boiler explosion is to ensure the integrity of the boiler in the first place.

Their warnings came to pass in 2017 after an explosion at Multifabs Limited, a preferred supplier of Lindex, killed 13 people, injured dozens more and caused a partial collapse of the factory.

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“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 at the time. “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 [the] installation of sprinklers. The Accord does not cover boiler inspections, which are monitored by the Bangladesh government.”

A boiler pilot commissioned by Accord signatories in 2018 found defects in all 35 boilers belonging to 17 Accord-covered garment factories. Of those, 19 could not undergo all stages of inspection, including an internal one, because they required immediate remediation. Chief among the weaknesses was calcium buildup, which can corrode the boiler wall, reduce its efficiency and result in the leakage and spraying of boiling water. Other potential hazards included missing boiler components, faulty electrical wiring and incomplete or nonexistent technical datasheets.

Five of the boilers, which were produced by an uncertified manufacturer, did not have the necessary Bangladesh Chief Inspector of Boilers (CIoB) certification.

“Boilers that have not been produced, installed and maintained to international and Bangladesh CIoB boiler standards constitute a potential life and property threat hazard,” the Accord concluded.

In December 2019, a young woman 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. Engineers from the Accord who investigated the premises later 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. While the three boilers were not damaged by the explosion, the accident severely weakened the structure of the gas-supply room and caused damage to electrical wiring and cables in the area.

In a statement it provided at the time, the Accord reiterated that its scope was fire, electrical and structural safety, though it acknowledged the importance of adding boiler safety inspections and said the work would continue under auspices of the Readymade Garment Sustainability Council (RSC), the tripartite body to which it was ceding its responsibilities.

Organizations such as the Clean Clothes Campaign have since butted heads with the Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association, which represents factory owners in the RSC, over the progress with boiler inspections.

“Six months since the RSC began its operations, there is no indication that a boiler safety inspection program has started,” it wrote in October.

The Accord, which was set to expire at the end of May, is itself in a liminal space. It has a reprieve of only three months, after which its legal hold on brand signatories will end.

Labor advocates say the past eight years of progress are in danger of backsliding, and that any “unfinished business” will remain just that—unfinished.

“The question at hand is still the same: will the Accord’s signatory brands agree to a new binding safety agreement that ensures the safety work in Bangladesh remains individually enforceable upon brands, keeps an independent secretariat in place that oversees the brands’ compliance, and allows for expansion to other countries?” the Clean Clothes Campaign said after the extension was announced. “Without such an agreement, brands’ efforts in Bangladesh will amount to no more than the kind of self-monitoring practices that failed to prevent the Rana Plaza building collapse.”