For the workers of Colour Max BD Ltd, a gas lighter factory in Ashulia, Dhaka, life was all about surviving, to make it through every day, earning a meagre wage for 14 hours of labour in the dingy factory where work safety was a thing of fantasy.
But on Tuesday, their dreams of mere survival went up in flames: a massive fire caused severe injuries to at least 26 workers of the factory.
Two of the workers have so far died from their injuries while undergoing treatment at Dhaka Medical College Hospital (DMCH). Those who are still alive are fighting for their lives.
A visit to the waiting room of National Institute of Burn and Plastic Surgery in the DMCH on Thursday afternoon revealed a grim picture: family members of the victims crammed in the room, crying and waiting for news – good or bad.
Jelekha Begum, from Baliadighi area in Bogra district, lay in a shadowy corner of the room, while her elder daughter, son and three other relatives tended to her.
Her daughter Tomalika Roky, 18, who had been severely injured in the fire, had died around 12pm.
“Roky started working at the factory on November 3. She used to work 12-14 hours a day for a wage less than Tk2,000,” said Anjuman Ara, one of the relatives.
Roky used to work at an RMG factory before she switched over to the gas lighter factory. “Perhaps it was her fate that dragged her to that factory,” said Anjuman, crying.
A few feet away from the Roky's grieving family sat Ujjal, also from Bogra, whose 14-year-old daughter was also injured in the fire.
“I am not able to work as I am very ill. My wife Ratna, 25, worked at the factory. My daughter joined her on November 1, quitting her studies at home,” he told the Dhaka Tribune.
“The fire started in the room where my daughter was working. My wife was able to get away as she was in another room. But my daughter got burnt.”
At least 20 of the injured workers are admitted at the DMCH, most of whom are 14-16 years old, sources said. The others are being treated at Enam Medical College Hospital in Savar.
Seven of the patients are suffering critical burn injuries, the sources added.
NHRC chief: Gas lighter factory owners must be brought to book
Severe negligence of the factory owners caused the fire and the casualties at the gas lighter factory in Ashulia, said National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) Chairman Kazi Reazul Hoque.
“Necessary actions against the owners should be taken immediately. If it is needed, there should be a criminal case filed against them because they have committed a serious crime,” he said after visiting the injured workers of the factory at the DMCH on Thursday afternoon.
He further said every victim with burn injuries was in a severe state, whether they were being treated at the ICU or the general ward.
Not the just the factory owners, but government organisations, fire service department and the Labour Ministry also have responsibilities in the matter, he added.
“Our observation is that there were no safety measures in place in the gas lighter factory, such as fire-proof uniform, masks and so on.”
Burn injuries might have been minimised had the workers been given protective gear during work, the NHRC chief said.
“There were also child workers engaged in this hazardous job. The labour worked there a minimum of 14 hours a day and got Tk2,200 as salary which is in violation of the Labour Act as well,” he added.
Reazul said an NHRC team had already been sent to assess the situation in the factory. “They will provide a complete report regarding the incident.”