The fire, coming in contact with a petrol container, flared up abruptly in a Lalbagh metal factory on Friday noon all of a sudden. The flame dumfounded the 12-year-old boy working by it, and he looked around for help. The fire was swelling by the second.
Panicked, he picked up a can lying nearby and emptied its content to quench the fire, but the flame lifted higher. The container had kerosene, not water inside, he recalled.
“I rushed and poured some water from a drum onto the fire,” said the minor boy’s colleague Faruk, “There is no telling what could have happened if I had not put out the fire in time.”
Mohammad Faruq Ahmed, a little older than the small boy, was narrating the incident before the press saying they were lucky to get away with the fire that could be as dangerous as the one in Nimtoli in June or the one in Jatrabari last week.
“In the factory, we work with fire all the time with inflammable materials like petrol and kerosene lying all around,” he said at a roundtable at the Dhaka Reporters Unity yesterday.
Nearly 15,000 such small and big industrial units are set up on the ground floors of residential buildings in Old Dhaka, and most of them do not have fire-fighting equipment, said Shafiqur Rahman Bhuiyan, a researcher at Corporate Social Responsibility Centre.
“Many of the chemicals stored in these factories cause physical complexities such as vomiting, headache, burn injuries and skin scorching,” he said presenting the keynote paper.
Smart Business Initiative (SBI) Alliance, an advocacy group working against child labour, organised the roundtable on chemical hazards on working children.
The roundtable stressed the need for enforcing existing laws to ensure children’s safety at workplace.
Referring to a spate of recent fire incidents in chemical factories, speakers observed that experts should be consulted to formulate a set of guidelines on how chemicals should be handled to minimise threats on human lives and properties.
They said ward councillors, especially in old town, have a responsibility to monitor the industrial and commercial units in their areas to ensure that these factories do not pose a threat to the residents.
Representatives of chemical factories, on the other hand, urged the authorities to identify combustible chemicals before taking action against them.
“Not every chemical is combustible. We consume many chemicals and use them in our everyday lives,” said Enam Uddin, vice-president of Dhaka City Plastic Factory Workers and Labourers’ Union.
Other discussants demanded that Rajuk enhance monitoring to ensure that industrial units do not operate in residential areas.
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