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October 18, 2020

Six workers suffocate after falling into factory’s chemical tank

October 18, 2020

Six workers suffocated on Saturday while trying to clean a chemical tank of a garment company’s factory near Naurus Chowrangi in the SITE Industrial Area.

After receiving information that some workers were trapped in a chemical tank, police and rescue workers from different welfare organisations arrived at the factory and took the six victims to a nearby private hospital, where doctors pronounced them dead on arrival.

Their bodies were later taken to the Jinnah Postgraduate Medical Centre, where a medico-legal officer examined them and confirmed that the six workers had suffocated. Police said that the tank of the garment factory was

full of chemicals and the workers had been trying to clean it when they lost consciousness.

They added that according to their preliminary investigation, the six workers had suffocated due to a poisonous gas because the tank contained a chemical substance.

Officials said that the tank was approximately 50 feet deep and it was half filled with chemicals, adding that one worker had initially climbed down the tank to clean it, but he fell unconscious there.

They said that according to their investigation so far, one of the workers had apparently fallen into the tank and then the others followed him while trying to save him. They added that they are conducting further investigation to confirm how the unfortunate incident occurred.

Police said the were identified as Ramesh, Boora, Ghairdari, Kashan, Naseeb and Shoaib, adding that the incident had occurred in the wee hours but it was brought to their families’ notice after they reached the factory to inquire why they had not returned home all night.

Their families also held a protest and blamed the factory management for the incident. They said that a case should be registered against the factory administration, whose negligence had caused six deaths.

They also said that machines are now available for cleaning chemical tanks because of the presence of poisonous gases, but factory owners use their workers for the purpose to save money. They demanded that the government ensure an efficient labour inspection mechanism to address the problem of poor occupational safety & health conditions in the industrial sector.

SHO Ayaz Khan said that the statements of the factory’s owner and management as well as witnesses are being recorded, adding that a case would be registered if any criminal element is found or if the families of the victims ask the police to register a case. This is not the first such incident to have occurred in Karachi.

Several workers have lost their lives in similar incidents. On December 4, 2015, the owner and seven workers of a pickle factory in Korangi’s Darul Islam Society had suffocated after falling in a chemical tank.

On November 20, 2015, three workers of an oil company in the Bin Qasim area had suffocated while cleaning a tank. On May 15, 2016, five workers had suffocated at a factory in the Korangi Industrial Area.

Death traps

Over 260 workers were burnt alive when the multi-storey Ali Enterprises garment factory was set on fire in Baldia Town on September 11, 2012 in what became the deadliest industrial blaze in Pakistan’s history.

Last month, dissatisfied with an anti-terrorism court’s verdict in the high-profile Baldia garment factory fire case, families and rights groups held a news conference at the Karachi Press Club. They said the lack of health and safety facilities at workplaces in Pakistan had become death traps for the country’s workers.

Saeeda Khatoon, who lost her 18-year-old only son in the Baldia fire incident and heads the Ali Enterprises Factory Fire Affectees Association, also addressed the news conference.

She said that the main question was not whether it was arson or an accidental fire incident, but the whole point was that a proper fire fighting system was not installed at the factory.

National Trade Union Federation General Secretary Nasir Mansoor said: “All exits of the factory, including its windows, were closed with iron bars. The firefighting equipment present there was not in working condition.”

He said the workers had not been trained for emergency situations. “The factory itself was illegal. Its building map had not been approved from the relevant departments. These were the main reasons that resulted in the deaths of hundreds of innocent workers.”

The speakers said anyone involved in the incident should be given exemplary punishment, but terming the factory owners innocent was murder of justice because their criminal negligence in ensuring proper safety protocols took the lives of 260 workers.

They said if the factory owners were being blackmailed or receiving threats, they should have contacted the police or the relevant administration and ensured safety arrangements, which they did not.

They also said that instead of learning from this tragedy and improving working conditions at workplaces, business owners had been provided with an escape route in the name of extortion threats. They added that industrial accidents are on the rise and many workers are still dying in them.

However, the speakers lamented, the government continues to be a silent spectator while local and international brands carry on violating labour laws and standards in their race to earn more and more profits.

They also lamented that the International Labour Organisation’s conventions were not being implemented, and neither were the Generalised System of Preferences Plus nor the Global Framework Agreements.

They said international brands, their local suppliers and private social audit companies have formed an unholy alliance against workers, while the government is patronising them, which is tantamount to providing them with a licence to kill workers.

The speakers said local labour laws are being violated constantly. They said that about 95 per cent of the workers have no appointment letters and only five per cent are registered with social security and pension institutions.

They pointed out that ethnic and gender discrimination is ripe in industrial zones, while the notorious contract system of labour has virtually turned millions of workers into modern-day slaves. They said that only one per cent of the workers are members of labour unions.

They said Sindh has a law for occupational health and safety but it is not being implemented. “The Government of Sindh had declared September 11 as the day of health and safety, but strangely, no programme or event was held on governmental level on this day,” said a speaker.

The news conference was also told that everybody is politicking over the blood of the martyred workers but no one is ready to help them get justice and dress their deep wounds.

The speakers demanded that brands be compelled to follow local and international laws. They said private social auditing systems should be ended and replaced with labour inspection systems. They also stressed on saving the lives of workers and ensuring their good health.