Tragedy in Pakistan: Twin Factory Infernos in Lahore and Karachi
Despite my rising in-sensitiveness to everything under the sun after hearing one horrible news item after the other, I am deeply saddened by the death of more than three hundred labourers and factory workers in the two factory infernos in Lahore and Karachi. Let us please take a moment to pray for their families and the maghfirat of these men and women. Ameen.
This is not the first time; factories in Pakistan have been reduced to dust. A recent timeline published in Dawn here clearly shows that in the past five years, many factories have burnt down and their labourers and workers burnt to death.
With such recurring patterns, why is it that the employers of these laborers and owners of factories are not giving importance to Health, Safety and Environment Standards and following bylaws that protect their employees and their investment?
Factories in Pakistan need to be operated in compliance with the Factories Act 1934. Chapter 3 of the Factories Act 1934 has detailed provisions relating to cleanliness of the factory, methods to dispose waste and effluent from the family, artificial humidification, dust and fumes, over crowding, lighting, drinking water etc.
In fact Section 25 of the Factories Act 1934 clearly states the “Precautions” which every factory has to take against a possible fire. Section 33 of the Factories Act 1934 similarly deals with explosives or inflammable dust and gases in factories. After going through these Sections, these are the questions which immediately come to mind:
Q- Were these factories equipped with adequate “means of escape” in case of a fire and were this fire exit marked distinctly?
Q- Were the provincial inspectors carrying our routine and regular inspections of these factories, in which case, why did it never appear to any Inspector that these two factories did not have adequate fire-escapes, fire extinguishers or no history of fire drills? If this indeed was the case, then did the Inspector ever serve on the manager of the factory, “an order in writing” specifying the measures which should be adopted before a specified date?
Q- Were the exits from any room in the factory locked, fastened or obstructed so that they could not be immediately opened from inside?
Q- Did the factory have in place an effective and clearly “audible means of giving warning in case of fire to every person employed therein”?
Q- Was any dust, gas, fume or vapour which is likely to explode on ignition is being used in the factory; and if so were all “practicable measures” taken to prevent such explosion?
Q- If any plant, tank or vessel contained explosives or inflammable substances, and then was such plant, tank or vessel exposed to any welding, brazing, soldering or cutting operation especially that involving the application of heat or drilling likely to create heat or sparks?
And these are just basic questions. I am sure that once the matter is thoroughly investigated, we will see further glaring loopholes, instances of gross negligence and plain reckless behavior.
We need answers. Karachi and Lahore are mourning an unthinkable tragedy. So many homes have been left disturbed. So many families have suddenly lost their loved ones and in some cases the sole bread earner of the family?
It is not just the employers of the two factories in Lahore and Karachi who are responsible for this tragedy and need to be brought to task, but the regulatory agencies and inspectors as well need to be made accountable for failing to carry out their jobs honestly and effectively.