Thought Leadership


Jailed on the job

October 3, 2012
KEYWORDS emergency / karachi / locked
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Pakistani factory fireIn September, at least 261 people burnt to death as fires swept through two factories in Pakistan, police and government officials said, raising all-too-familiar questions about locked windows and gates, lack of emergency exists, cramped work spaces, and trapping workers like rats.

These tragedies all have the same threads: charred bodies, bodies aflame, horrified witnesses, missing workers, unknown causes, weeping relatives at hospitals and morgues, workers jumping from second and third floors to save their lives, vows of investigations, insults hurled at regulators.

I say “all” because you don’t have to go back to the infamous Triangle Shirtwaist Fire in Lower Manhattan 100 years ago to find exampled. A poultry processing plant in North Carolina locked in employees and lives were lost in a flash fire in the 1990s.

Food processing plants in the U.S. are notorious for locking exits.

Darn those employees, the owners seem to be saying. If only we could trust ‘em. They sneak off, take breaks, steal stuff. We’d hire more security guards or better security systems with surveillance cameras and alarms, but hey, this is a low margin business and we’re just trying to hang in there.

Could be Karachi. New York City. North Carolina. Nebraska. Blame it on those low wage workers. The owners, they’re just trying to make a buck. Safety? Can’t afford it. This is a dirty business.

Indeed.

A company suffers multiple worker fatalities in a fire because the doors were locked and emergency exits not provided – if guilty of documented negligence, throw the owners behind locked bars in very tight jails with bad housekeeping. And publicize the penalty so everyone knows. From Karachi to Omaha.

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