More than 4,500 Bangladeshi workers have undergone health and safety training as a project set up in response to the Rana Plaza disaster gathers pace.
The OHS (Occupational Health and Safety) Initiative for Workers and Communities was launched following the factory collapse in Dhaka, which killed well over 1,000 people and seriously injured many more in April 2013.
It is co-funded by the Institution of Occupational Safety and Health (IOSH) and a collaboration of organisations from the USA, Canada and Belgium, and aims to increase health and safety standards in garment, ship-breaking, construction and other industries, as well as within communities.
Now in its second year, 58 representatives have delivered 214 workshops within their organisations to 4,560 people. They have focused on topics such as labour law, the role of safety committees, hygiene in the workplace and domestic and workplace violence.
The project will continue into 2019, with a further group of trainers being developed to improve the lives of many thousands of people. It is also hoped it will become self-sufficient in the coming 12 months.
The Rana Plaza in Dhaka factory collapsed because of structural deficiencies in the building. It killed 1,134 people and injured about 2,500.
It was not an isolated incident. It is estimated that more than 11,000 people are killed at work in Bangladesh annually, while 24,500 die from work-related diseases. An additional eight million suffer injuries at work – many resulting in permanent disabilities.
Masud Parvez, the project coordinator, said: “We humbly believe that the project is a smashing success.
“By the end of the project, we will have developed 75 people from grassroots as occupational health and safety experts. They will work directly with the workers so the workers benefit. They will improve the lives of so many.
“This was the dream to start with, and I feel proud that in the first and second group of graduates, the participants’ eagerness to learn and ability to achieve have met very high marks.”
IOSH has been supporting international efforts to help safeguard those working in garment factories in the aftermath of the Rana Plaza disaster. The Institution worked with Fashion Revolution to hold two Westminster events on the issue in 2014 and 2015.
Richard Jones, IOSH’s Head of Policy and Public Affairs, said: “IOSH is delighted to see the valuable progress this project has made, and the many working lives it has already positively touched in Bangladesh. In co-sponsoring this great initiative, we could see its potential for success, but I’m pleased to say its achievements have exceeded our expectations.
“We look forward to continued and sustained growth as more trainers join the project and the initiative moves towards self-sufficiency.”
As well as IOSH, other organisations to fund the project are the World Solidarity Movement in Belgium, the National Fire Protection Association and American Industrial Hygiene Association in the USA, LUSH Cosmetics "Charity Pot" in Canada, and a group of anonymous donors in San Francisco, California.
The Occupational Safety, Health and Environment (OSHE) Foundation in Dhaka is serving as the secretariat of the project, with its offices housed in the Mirpur District of Dhaka.
The OSHE is one of six Bangladeshi non-governmental organisations on the board of the project, which also includes the California Collaborative, an alliance of four safety and health groups in the US state and which organised the fundraising.
Garrett Brown, coordinator of the California Collaborative, said: “The OHS Initiative is hitting its stride with two classes of master trainers already conducting OHS workshops with garment workers and other industries.
“It is critical that the gains in workplace safety in the apparel sector in recent years be continued, and that grassroots organisations continue to increase their OHS knowledge and skills.”