Bangladesh, a manufacturing powerhouse in South Asia, is a small country but densely populated with approximately 160 million people. On 29th February 2024, a six-storey shopping centre in the country’s Capital, Dhaka, caught fire; resulting in over 46 fatalities including families with children. In this horrific incident many died from inhaling toxic gases or jumping from the building.

Originating in a restaurant on the first floor, the fire quickly spread from floor to floor towards the roof and fire fighters took 2 hours to get it under control.

According to Reuters, Brigadier General Main Uddin, said that the fire could have originated from a gas leak or stove. He told reporters, “It was a dangerous building with gas cylinders on every floor, even on the stairs.” He also said that the single staircase was lacking ventilation and other safety features.

The building had many safety failures and violations of fire safety regulations. These included the building only having one stairwell, which became filled with thick smoke; the lack of adequate passive fire protection; the lack of active fire protection measures; and gas cylinders incorrectly stored on every floor.

Sadly, this is not an isolated incident in Bangladesh, a country that manufactures much of the clothing that we wear in the western world. Many companies use factories in Bangladesh as part of the Ready Made Garment (RMG) Industry, which has led to a boom of cheaply made and unsafe buildings that have collapsed and caught fire. In response to an incident in 2013 when a building collapsed, killing more than 1,100 people and injuring over 2,000, a legally binding agreement between global brands and retailers and trade unions was signed. The purpose of this ‘Accord on Fire and Building Safety in Bangladesh’ was to ensure a safe working environment in the RMG industry. However, construction rules and regulations are not enforced, and buildings are constructed without consideration for the safety of occupants.

At a minimum, the building’s fire safety measures should have included:

  • More than one exit. Emergency stairwells and an alternative evacuate route must be available.
  • Unobstructed evacuation routes. Items, especially gas cylinders, should not be stored in stairwells.
  • Evacuation routes should be compartmentalised with fire doors to protect evacuees and each floor should be compartmentalised to stop the fire spread.
  • Evacuation plans, clearly signed evacuation routes and emergency assembly areas.
  • Automatic sprinkler systems and accessible firefighting equipment
  • Safe storage of hazardous gases

Imran Hassan, the secretary general of the Bangladesh Restaurant Owners’ Association told the Daily Star that most restaurants in Bangladesh do not have a proper fire suppression system and only a handful of owners are even aware of fire safety measures. He refers to restaurant kitchens needing to adhere to “3E” – education, engineering and enforcement – the three tiers of fire safety used in developed countries.

At CJK Fire & Safety, we could not agree more with these three tiers of fire safety, the 3E’s – education, engineering and enforcement.

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