Dhaka Tribune – 130 killed at ship-breaking yards in 10 years

Written by Anwar Hussain

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23 January 2016 – Fatalities of workers at ship-breaking yards continue unabated as the employers are reluctant to train the workers properly for the hazardous job and equip them with necessary safety gears, experts and observers have alleged.

They also blame the government for lax enforcement of laws against the yard owners.

In the latest accident, a worker was killed when a heavy plate fell on his head at Asadi Steel Enterprise at Madam Bibir Hat of Sitakunda on January 19. Injured Akkas Mia, 42, was taken to Sitakunda Upazila Health Complex where the on-duty doctors pronounced him dead. A case was lodged with Sitakunda police.

According to the Young Power in Social Action (YPSA) – an NGO working to uphold the rights of the ship-breaking workers, at least 130 workers were killed while several hundred others injured at the ship-breaking yards in the last decade.

On September 5 last year, a total of eight workers sustained grievous injuries from a deadly accident. Of them, four succumbed to their injuries while undergoing treatment at the Burn and Plastic Surgery unit of Chittagong Medical College Hospital.

On April 3, 2014, four workers were killed and three others injured from inhaling carbon dioxide when a gas cylinder exploded at a ship-breaking yard in Sitakunda.

According to the YPSA, the workplace casualty occurs as most of the ship-breaking yards hardly follow the occupational safety standards. Analysing the accidents that took place over the last 10 years, it has been found that the workers in many cases died from explosions or after coming into contact with toxic substances in the ships waiting to be scrapped.

Inhaling toxic substances like carbon dioxide and falling from vessels (which are up to 70 metres high) with no safety harness on are the major causes of workplace accidents in the ship-breaking industry, the YPSA said, adding that in some cases the workers are crushed under falling steel beams and heavy plates in the yards.

The ship-breaking industry boomed in the country in 1980s. As per the Bangladesh Ship Breakers’ Association data, there are around 40 ship-breaking yards along the 25km strip in Sitakunda coastal area of Chittagong. At present, around 2 million tonne large oil tankers, cargo and passenger vessels are dismantled every year in the ship-breaking yards.

“Most of the workers in the ship-breaking yards are sourced by the contractors from poverty-stricken areas of the country. Later they become easy prey to exploitation by the yard owners. The accidents take place since the yard owners hardly pay any attention to maintain occupational safety measures,” said Muhammad Ali Shahin, programme officer of the YPSA.

Although the government announced ship-breaking as an industry in 2011, the workers are still denied their inalienable rights to form or join trade unions.

“The owners cannot shrug off their liabilities as they are engaging untrained workers in the risky jobs without ensuring adequate safety measures,” added Shahin.

Tapan Datta, convener of Ship-breaking Workers’ Trade Union Forum, also blamed the owners for the recurring accidents at the yards.

Mohammad Mamun, general secretary of Bangladesh Trade Union Sangha, Chittagong, alleged that many yard owners do not abide by the minimum wage structure set by the government.

Amzad Hossain Chowdhury, vice-president of Bangladesh Ship Breakers’ Association, however, claimed that the number of workplace casualties was coming down gradually as the ship-breakers were complying with all necessary safety measures.

“We have a centre to impart training to the workers. We also provide the workers with Personal Protective Equipment such as safety helmets, eye shields, gloves, boots and overall protective equipments through the contractors,” he said.

“Under the aegis of our association, we have also set up a hospital with a fully-fledged Burn Unit for providing treatment to the workers,” he added.

When contacted, Abdul Hyi Khan, deputy inspector general of the Department of Inspection for Factories and Establishments, said that they would go tough against the ship-breakers who refuse to comply with the stipulated safety standards.
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