A big part of the reason why Rana Plaza did not happen was the failure of BGMEA, the garment exporters association, to take its regulatory job seriously in the past.
New Age: BGMEA admits failure in implementation (10 Jun 2013)
The Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters’ Association has admitted that it failed to implement the recommendations proposed by its own inquiry committee following the collapse of the Spectrum Sweater Industries factory in 2005, New Age can reveal.
‘The BGMEA should have done what was said in the report earlier,’ admitted Md Shahidullah Azim, a BGMEA vice-president. ‘Rana Plaza was the second time in our history that [a factory collapse] had happened. Spectrum was the first. We are acting now.’
The collapse of the Spectrum factory on April 10, 2005 led to the deaths of 64 workers and the BGMEA committee’s recommendations, published in June 2005, had sought to prevent any future collapses of apparel factories by requiring the association to undertake close monitoring of the structural integrity of buildings in which its members operated.
Building experts have differing views about whether the collapse of Rana Plaza — which took place on April 24, 2013, seven years after the collapse of Spectrum, causing the death of more than 1100 workers — could have been prevented if the BGMEA had implemented the recommendations.
‘If the BGMEA had put into action these recommendations, there might have been no Rana Plaza tragedy,’ architect Mubasshar Hussain, the president of the
Institute of Architects, Bangladesh, told New Age.
‘The BGMEA would have realised that the approved Rana Plaza building plans were for commercial, not industrial, use and may have realised the poor quality of the construction materials used. Implementing the recommendations could have stopped the collapse of the building,’ he said.
Shamim Bosunia, the current president of the Institution of Engineers who was a member on the inquiry committee, however said that he was less certain whether the committee recommendations, if implemented, would have prevented the future Rana Plaza collapse.
‘The recommendations did not state specifically that the BGMEA would assess the quality of the construction, which was the main cause of the Rana Plaza collapse,’ he said. ‘And it was the building owner, rather than the factory owners, who was building the extra floors. The BGMEA seems more concerned with companies that build their own factories, not ones that rent space.’
On 12 April 2012, two days after the collapse of the Spectrum factory, the BGMEA set up an inquiry committee under the chairmanship of Md Ali Azim Khan, who was then also chairman of the organisation’s standing committee on safety measures.
Two months later, the BGMEA published its report pointing to three main causes of the collapse of the Spectrum building — the overall poor quality of materials and construction, deviation from the original design drawings and specifications, and lack of proper supervision.
The report set out a ‘future action plan’ requiring the ‘appointment of a professional consultant highly experienced in the structural design of multi-storey buildings.’
The plan stated that this consultant should be responsible for collecting ‘structural drawings and design and soil investigation report of the existing factories’ and checking the ‘soundness of the structural design of the factories with regard to respective location, site condition and nature of occupancy (existing loading condition).’
With this information, the recommendations stated, the BGMEA should then categorise factories into those that are ‘most vulnerable,’ ‘vulnerable’ and ‘safe’ according to the ‘gravity of the situation which might endanger the safety of the building.’
‘Corrective measures’ should be suggested, the report went on, for those that were vulnerable and also advice should be given ‘as to the extent of vertical extension’ permitted for those deemed to be safe buildings.
In relation to upcoming factories, the committee recommended that the ‘soundness of the structural designs’ should be checked.
BGMEA officials have admitted to New Age that none of these recommendations have been implemented.
Md Shamsul Haque, the director of engineering at the BGMEA, admitted that he was not a structural design specialist and that the senior engineer he replaced who had been employed at the BGMEA at the time of the Spectrum building collapse was also an ordinary civil engineer.
‘Before Rana Plaza, we just checked papers. New companies were asked for copies of the structural plan and we checked with the Institution of Engineers, Bangladesh that the name of the engineer was an approved structural engineer. That is all we did,’ he said.
‘We did not get soil reports and we did not do any site visits,’ Haque said, acknowledging that he had never previously seen the BGMEA’s inquiry report on the Spectrum factory collapse.
‘Until Rana Plaza, the main job of the engineering cell was the construction of the BGMEA’s own buildings. In the six months before Rana Plaza, I was very busy with industrial parks for the RMG centre.’ he said.
He said that now things were different. ‘The BGMEA had increased the number of graduate engineers it employs from 3 to 9 and they undertake visual inspections of buildings.’
BGMEA vice-president Shahidullah confirmed that none of the committee recommendations had been implemented until now.
‘Until after Rana Plaza, the BGMEA had no building safety cell. Now, there is,’ he said. ‘We have closed down 19 factories in Dhaka and Chittagong out of a total 143 inspected. Some have been closed because the buildings are vulnerable and others because the generator is located on top floors,’ he said.
When asked how one should view the BGMEA as it had failed to implement its own recommendations after the Spectrum building collapse that, if implemented, might have stopped the Rana Plaza collapse, Azim said, ‘They should have done it. I have to be careful about what I say about the organisation as I belong to the BGMEA. I was elected just a month before Rana Plaza. I never saw the report.’