Preventable Disaster in Karachi

The fire was the deadliest industrial disaster the city had ever seen.  As it raged through the garment factory, people screamed for help, trapped in the burning building, some jumped from upper floor windows to their deaths or were seriously injured. The workers in the burning garment factory had no way out, the windows were barred, the doors were locked, there was no fire alarm, no sprinklers and over 100 garment workers, many of them young people, perished.  You may be forgiven for thinking that I am describing the recent (11/09/12) tragic fire in the Karachi garment factory which so far has claimed 289 lives, but in fact I am describing a 100 year old fire inNew York City, the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire which claimed the lives of 146 people in 1911.  The similarity between the two tragedies is painfully clear.

The point is that in the 21st century factory workers should not be dying from these types of disasters.  The Triangle Shirtwaist fire was a milestone in the development of fire safety which lead to changes such as the requirement for improved access and egress within work places and the installation of fire extinguishers, fire alarms and sprinklers.   From fires such as the Triangle Shirtwaist fire and the countless lives lost in the battle with fire over the past 100 years, our understanding of fire and the means to combat fire has improved to the point where fires with multiple fatalities such as the Karachi factory fire should be a thing of the past.  Modern building design, fire fighting technology, regulation and enforcement should have prevented a fire in a Karachi clothing factory from becoming a disaster.

Once the blame game starts, I hope that the bereaved families do not simply point their finger at the factory owner but look beyond this, to their local government authorities that have responsibility for planning permission and building control and to enforcement authorities that have responsibility for inspecting premises.  It is too easy to simply blame the owner.  More importantly, to do so will simply allow this type of tragedy to happen again and again.

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