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Checks find flaws in Bangladesh garment factories

Global teams report on first wave of exams

Nearly a year after a factory building collapsed in Bangladesh, killing more than 1,100 workers, engineering teams sponsored by Western retailers have been rigorously inspecting that country’s garment industry, resulting in at least two temporary closings because of safety problems.

The inspection reports on the first 10 factories, which were released Tuesday and contain an unusual level of detail, found that some factories lacked adequate fire doors, did not have required sprinkler systems, and had dangerously high weight loads on several floors.

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The announced inspections were done through the Bangladesh Accord Foundation, a group of 150 clothing brands and retailers from more than 20 countries that plans to inspect 1,500 Bangladesh garment factories by early September.

“Our inspection program is in full swing,” said Brad Loewen, the group’s chief safety inspector.

The program has 38 teams of international engineers, which, with Bangladeshi engineers and technicians, plan to inspect 250 factories each month, doing fire, electrical, and structural inspections on each.

The inspections released Tuesday found a lack of fire alarms, a requirement for better enclosure of electrical cables, and a need to improve maintenance procedures for items like electrical wiring. The inspections, done in November and December, do not highlight any problems as extreme as those that caused the collapse last spring of the Rana Plaza factory.

“The inspection reports contain an unprecedented level of detail and set a new standard in transparency and credibility,” said Jyrki Raina, general secretary of IndustriALL Global Union, a labor federation that played a major role in setting up the accord.

At Alif Textiles, the inspectors found that the boiler rooms as well as storage areas holding combustible materials were not separated by fireproof construction. The inspectors said the seven-story building, in Dhaka, did not have an automatic sprinkler system and that the factory’s fire alarm system was manual, was not loud enough, and would sound only on individual floors and not throughout the building.

The inspectors found materials stored on the exit stairs. The report said that collapsible, concertina gates with locks were at exits, though it noted that the gates were open and unlocked during the inspection. Several emergency lights were burned out at exit stairs.

The inspectors said that an automatic sprinkler system needed to be installed within three months — an upgrade expected to cost about $100,000. And it called for numerous other fixes within three months and some within six months.

The factory owners are told in advance when the inspections will occur, and are asked to locate relevant building documentation, said Joris Oldenziel, a spokesman for the foundation. The first wave of inspections focused on buildings with at least five floors that have multiple factories.

The reports are sent to the factory owner, the Western brands that use the factory, and worker representatives at the factory. They were to come up with remediation plans, to be published on the accord’s website.

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