After another industrial accident related to a boiler explosion in Gazipur on Tuesday that killed 11 people, the Dhaka Tribune has found that there are only six available inspectors to monitor over 5,000 boilers in the country.
The blast on Tuesday morning occurred at Multifabs Ltd, a four-storey apparel factory in Kashimpur’s Nayapara area, while maintenance work was being done.
The explosion at the boiler, located in a tin-roofed shed, partially damaged the nearby factory building.
There are currently, 10 inspectors under the Office of the Chief Inspector of Boilers to inspect the boilers of all industrial capacity with only six inspectors on regular inspection duty.
Neither the chief inspector nor the three deputy chief inspectors go on regular field visits.
According to the Office of the Chief Inspector of Boilers, in the fiscal year 2015-16, the government inspected and permitted the operations of 5,035 boilers. It also approved the licence of operation to 578 imported boilers and locally made 263 boilers.
On September 10, 2016, at least 24 people were killed and more than 50 injured when a boiler at a packaging factory, Tampaco Foils Ltd, exploded in Tongi.
“Since there is severe shortage of inspectors each inspector has to check 50 to 80 boilers a month within 20 working days. This time limitation creates an impossible amount of pressure on the inspectors and does not allow them to do their job properly,” said an inspector seeking anonymity.
President of Bangladesh Export Oriented Garments Washing Industries Owners Association Gazi Ahmad Hasan said: “As per existing rules and regulations a boiler is supposed to be inspected every six months but because there are not enough inspectors in the department, the inspections do not happen regularly.
“Sometimes the factory owners have to directly contact the inspectors for getting their boilers inspected.”
Government officials admit there is a shortage of employees in the department and said they have to work on a priority basis with boiler inspections.
“We have to inspect boilers on a priority basis, meaning the older ones get checked first and the newer ones end up on the waiting list,” said engineer Md Sharfat Ali, inspector of boilers.
Currently, there are three boiler inspection offices in Dhaka, Chittagong and Rajshahi with just eight inspectors out of a total 30 staff members.
In December last year, the Industries Ministry sent a proposal to the Public Administration Ministry to increase the number of staff employed there and upgrade the office of the chief inspector of boilers to cope with the rapid expansion of industries.
The ministry also proposed a staff increase of 235 people and setting up five more offices in Gazipur, Narayanganj, Mymensingh, Khulna and Rangpur.
“I think, there is a lack of cooperation between the Department of Inspection for Factories and Establishments and the Office of the Chief Inspector of Boilers. The lack of monitoring by the government is also a problem in this case.
“As a result, workers in factories become victims of industrial accidents. To fix this rise in number of deaths from industrial accidents the government needs to significantly increase the number of inspectors.
“Otherwise, the death toll will keep rising from these accidents,” said Sirajul Islam Rony, president of the Bangladesh National Garment Workers Employees League.
However, factory insiders admit that a lack of proper maintenance, unskilled machine operators and lack of enforcing and implementing laws are also responsible for industrial accidents like boiler explosions.
President of Bangladesh Export Oriented Garments Washing Industries Owners Association Gazi Ahmad Hasan said: “Accidents can happen from a lack of maintenance and unskilled machine operators. If a boiler is well maintained, then the likelihood of accidents will be less.
“Using older boilers is obviously more risky because they do not have the safety mechanisms like the newer ones that have several safety measures.”
Chief Safety Inspector engineer Mohammad Abdul Mannan said the explosion at Multifabs Ltd was most likely caused by someone ill equipped to handle the machine.
He said the boiler which had an automatic electric system was run manually and that caused the pressure to rise to the point of explosion.