The International Labour Organization (ILO) has signed an agreement with the Federation of Bangladesh Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FBCCI) to improve OSH practices in ten priority economic sectors. The partnership builds on similar work in Bangladesh’s garment sector.
Signed on 17 August, the joint initiative requires the FBCCI to strengthen OSH standards at the institutional and enterprise levels with support from the ILO’s Ready-Made Garment (RMG) programme.
The FBCCI also needs to build 15 safety units to foster a better safety culture in industries that require improvements: electronic and electrical; chemical; plastic; light engineering; leather; food processing; furniture; printing and packaging; domestic ready-made garments; and steel re-rolling.
To encourage better OSH standards, 2,400 safety representatives and 100 safety committees will be employed to raise awareness and build OSH capacity among employers and workers.
All Bangladeshi businesses that employ 50 or more workers are legally required to set up ‘safety committees’ that reflect an equal number of employer and worker representatives.
Under the ILO-FBCCI agreement, the number of safety committee members that can advise on fire safety and OSH will increase to 900. The move is designed to enhance OSH monitoring and the communication of safety issues in the sectors covered.
‘Ensuring the safety of workers is our utmost priority,’ said Md. Jashim Uddin, the FBCCI’s president.
‘We have teamed up with the ILO to invest in strong and functional safety units, safety committees and safety representatives. Strengthening workplace safety and health at institutional and enterprise levels will make our factories safer and more productive, which will benefit the national economy.’
On 12 May this year, the ILO’s RMG programme and the Centre for Policy Dialogue (CPD) hosted the First Industrial Safety Forum in Bangladesh’s capital Dhaka to ‘discuss the development of a national industrial safety framework’.
The RMG programme is working with the Bangladesh Garments Manufacturers and Exporters Association and the Bangladesh Knitwear Manufacturers and Exporters Association to upskill 1,000 RMG safety committees on OSH, fire safety and COVID-19 guidelines.
Last September, a new International Accord for Health and Safety in the Garment and Textile Industry came into force, which included a requirement for its signatories to strengthen their commitment to factory safety in Bangladesh.
The Rana Plaza factory collapse in Dhaka in April 2013, which resulted in the loss of 1,134 garment workers’ lives, highlighted the poor working conditions in Bangladesh’s garment industry. Although conditions in the sector have improved since then, inconsistencies in OSH standards continue.
In March 2021, an international, multi-centre and cross-sectional study that looked at the prevalence of musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs) among female workers in Bangladeshi RMG factories revealed that non-OSH compliant factories had a high MSD burden among those working long hours.
Published in the Risk Management and Healthcare Policy journal, the research called on Bangladeshi employers to enforce ‘minimum ILO-based OSH standards’ and introduce ‘low-cost interventions to improve working conditions’.
IOSH, which has supported international efforts to help protect those working in Bangladeshi garment factories since the Rana Plaza disaster, welcomed the ILO/FBCCI initiative.
‘In recent years we have started to see areas of improvement for workplace safety in the garment sector, and these improvements in standards need to continue,’ said Ruth Wilkinson, head of health and safety at IOSH.
‘It is critical that we also see improvement in standards across other sectors; the undoubted key to this is to build OSH capacity and create a better all-round safety culture based on much greater levels of awareness, as well as OSH knowledge and skills that involve workers in consultation,’ she added.
‘Stronger workplace safety and health will not only protect and safeguard workers but also help deliver better productivity, greater prosperity and create sustainable workforces.’