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ILO Derides Safety Conditions in Pakistan Factory Fires

At least 314 workers were killed in two separate blazes.

GENEVA — The International Labor Organization on Wednesday called for Pakistan to take concrete steps to improve safety standards in the country following the deaths of 289 workers on Tuesday in an apparel factory fire in Karachi and 25 in a shoe factory in Lahore.

This story first appeared in the September 13, 2012 issue of WWD.  Subscribe Today.

The ILO said the fires highlight the lack of workplace safety measures.

“We were shocked by the news,” said Seiji Machida, head of ILO’s SafeWork Program. “Protection of workers’ safety and health is a fundamental human right. We need to reinforce measures to protect workers’ lives from hazards in the workplace.”

Tragedies like these, said Machida, are too common in the region.

In the fire in Karachi, many victims were trapped in a basement with no fire exits and locked doors. Most died from suffocation when the basement filled with smoke. Other workers on higher floors rushed to windows to escape but struggled to get out because metal bars blocked their way, the ILO noted.

The agency said its office in Pakistan has been “highlighting the importance of SafeWork” in Pakistan at forums organized with the government, employers and workers and encouraging a labor inspection regime that protects the workers.”

The ILO has adopted more than 40 standards specifically dealing with occupational safety and health, as well as more than 40 Codes of Practice.

Claude Loiselle, ILO international coordinator on safety and health, told WWD that factories must have proper safety exits and evacuation procedures, and must ensure that electrical systems are not overloaded and not located next to fire hazards.

Enforcement of safety and health standards in the workplace and enhancing them is a national responsibility, he said, adding that many poor countries, including Pakistan, do not have adequate capacity to monitor all workplaces.

He said in some cases exit doors in apparel factories in are locked or chained to prevent stealing or to stop intruders during working hours, but underscored that exit doors “should be accessible at all times.”

Pakistani judicial authorities are said to have issued notices to officials and departments over the Karachi fire, including an investigation for possible negligence by the factory owner.