A boiler explosion at a Bangladeshi garment plant in the city of Gazipur killed at least 13 people and injured dozens, emergency workers said on Tuesday, raising new concerns over the safety of garment workers in the country.
The explosion took place in the dyeing section of the four-storey factory operated by local Bangladeshi firm Multifabs late on Monday. About 50 workers were inside the factory at the time of the explosion.
"I heard a big bang when I was having tea outside," factory driver Hafiz Mostafa told the Reuters news agency. "I saw windows, doors, glasses, machinery and a section of the wall of the building go flying."
Immediately after the incident, the fire service began rescue operations with the help of other workers and family members. Two more bodies were recovered on Tuesday afternoon and one of the injured died in hospital.
The plant had been shut for 10 days for Eid holidays at the Muslim holy month of Ramadan and was being prepared to resume operations on Tuesday, when the accident occurred.
The garment factory's clients include Lindex of Finland, the German supermarket chain Aldi, and Rexholm of Denmark.
Mahiuddin Faruqui, chairman and managing Director of Multifabs told Dhaka Tribune: “We’ll definitely compensate and provide jobs for the family members of those who have been deceased and injured.”
“We will give the highest possible amount as compensation. It will be fixed upon discussions with the district administration officials or the government,” he added.
The district administration has set up an eight-member investigation committee to probe the incident. After an inspection inside the factory on Tuesday, they found that the safety certificate for the boiler which exploded had expired a week before.
“We have found that the exploded boiler had expired on June 24 and it was not renewed. However, it cannot be confirmed yet if the explosion took place due to the boiler’s expiration,” said Gazipur Additional Deputy Commissioner Rahenul Islam, who is heading the investigation committee.
But the company said the plant was functioning well and the six-year-old boiler, procured from Germany, had just been serviced.
"The boiler was running well," Mahiuddin Faruqui, Multifab's chairman told Reuters. "After servicing when workers were trying to restart it, it went off."
The Multifabs factory has been closed until further notice and ten neighbouring garment factories were also closed on Tuesday.
Bangladesh's roughly $28 billion garment sector, the biggest in the world after China, came under scrutiny after the collapse of the Rana Plaza factory complex in 2013 that killed more than 1,100 people, and a fire at a garment factory in 2012 that killed 112 workers.
"There can be no negotiations on worker safety and no tolerance for such accidents," said Amirul Haque Amin, president of the National Garment Workers Federation, seven of whose members were among the over 50 injured in Monday’s blast.
After Rana Plaza, two international coalitions were formed to help improve building and fire safety at thousands of garment factories across Bangladesh, but casualties in recent accidents are still on the higher side.
"The accident shows that process started after Rana Plaza is far from over and reforms need to be expedited," Amin said.