The Daily Star – Shipbreaking workers in peril

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21 January 2016 – In this paper we have written many times about the hazardous working conditions at shipbreaking yards. Regrettably, there has been very little progress in ensuring safety measures for the workers. According to an estimate, in the last five and half years 60 workers were killed and another 125 injured in accidents at the yards.

Though there is a clear directive that all ships must be cleaned of toxic materials before they are exported to ship recycling yards, it is hardly followed in Bangladesh. The workers are exposed to poison contamination and explosion of leftover gas and fumes which are the prime causes of accidents in the yards. According to international rules, workers must use personal protective equipment (PPE) at works but it is alleged that many companies do not provide adequate safety gears. Furthermore, owners usually hire unskilled workers who do not have training on shipbreaking works and are unaware of safety measures. Owners also do not allow workers to exercise their rights. These malpractices ultimately result in frequent accidents and high casualty numbers.

There are High Court directives and government safety guidelines on shipbreaking, but very little is being implemented due to owners’ apathy and lax government monitoring system which also suffers from acute shortage of inspectors. There are only two inspectors in Sitakunda for around 100 shipbreaking yards in the Upazila.

The government should gear up the monitoring mechanism of the yards and ensure safety of the workers. There should also be a probe into the accidents by independent inquiry committees and the persons responsible should be taken to court for their sheer disregard for workers’ lives.