Occupational Safety and Health: Is Bangladesh Playing With Fire?

A review of the working conditions in Bangladesh

At the beginning of June 2022, 49 people were killed due to recurrent explosions at a container depot in Sitakunda, Bangladesh. Mislabelled chemicals caused the fire to worsen uncontrollably fast, followed by several explosions. Although this is devastating news, this is not a rare occurrence: Bangladesh has been known for its unsafe working conditions for many years now. According to a review conducted by Fabiha Tasnim, 11.7 thousand workers suffer from fatal accidents. On top of this, 24.5 thousand workers die from indirect complications like work-related diseases.

Bangladesh clearly is not able or willing to account for the health and safety of its workers. It comes as no surprise that this country has not ratified the key international labour standards on Occupational Safety and Health (OSH). OSH is concerned with the safety, health and welfare of employees at work. The International Labour Organisation (ILO) Constitution states that ‘workers must be protected from sickness, disease and injury arising from their employment’. Yet the reality is often very different from this ideal. The ILO estimates 2.78 million work-related deaths are recorded every year, of which 2.4 million are related to occupational diseases, caused by the work environment or work activities. The ILO has published a list of occupational diseases in 2010.

Bangladesh has only ratified some ILO conventions relating to OSH such as the Protection against Accidents Convention (No. 32). The importance of safe working conditions is implicated in this convention, but compliance seems to be difficult for Bangladesh. The ILO is cooperating with the Bangladesh government to tackle the persisting accidents by strengthening national occupational safety and health systems and developing policies and frameworks. Bangladesh developed a campaign on fire safety as a reaction to two other big fires in 2012 and 2013. The aim was to broaden the knowledge concerning fire safety. 

As explained in a previous blog post, the ILO has recently adopted a resolution to include OSH as a fifth category of Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work. These five rights are universal and apply to all people in all member states. As a consequence, Bangladesh must respect and promote the right to a safe and healthy working environment, even if they have not ratified all relevant conventions. The horrible accident that occurred in June 2022 shows that there’s still a lot of work to be done to improve workplace conditions in Bangladesh. As long as that does not happen, the country is playing with fire.


den haag