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Breaking ships safely


Accidents at the 100 ship-breaking yards spread along Sitakunda-Kumira under Chittagong have claimed 161 workers’ lives and left 209 others injured in the past nine years, according to an organisation working for workplace safety. On an average, 18 workers were killed and 23 more injured in a year. Clearly, the incidence of fatal accidents is high by any standard. Whether there was any single year without any such accident is not known. The job of taking apart an old and rickety ship is a hazardous job. Rich and developed countries dispose those of in order to get rid of the environmental pollution. But some poor and developing countries with no iron and steel mines of their own take the opportunity of dismantling such discarded ships for iron scraps. Ship-breaking is even called an industry.

Iron scraps obtained from dismantled ships are cheap and have reuse value. As such, its economic impact is no less than that of some other industries. Leaving aside the long-term impacts of pollutants that get released into the environment, ship-breaking is a profitable venture. But it is only more so because the standard of workplace safety is very poor and owners of ship-breaking yards are reluctant to procure the protective gears for their workers and import sophisticated machines and equipment for dealing with radiation, hazardous materials and gases that build up inside chambers of a discarded ship. If residues of radioactive substances are not detected and treated scientifically before slicing ships, things can be nasty for workers engaged there. Similar is the case with many other chemicals and asbestos in particular. That some chambers of a ship explode at times causing death and injury to workers is no secret.

If the sector’s contribution to economy and the government’s revenue from it is taken into consideration, certainly it should be streamlined in line with the industrial policy. Under such a policy, workers should enjoy all the facilities they deserve. Training for workers is vitally important because they must know how to handle risky jobs at the site. Reportedly, 22,000 workers have found employment at the ship-breaking yards. One wonders if they have learned the job through trial and error or were specially trained for the riskier jobs. Mechanics and workers are resourceful here but this is no substitute for specialised training and protective gears and equipment.

It is understood that better management and planning can reduce fatal accidents at the ship-breaking yards. There is a need for enforcing stricter rules and regulations in order to coping with the threats of accidents. At no point should workers be used as guinea pigs in situations they are not familiar with. In such cases, expert opinions and suggestions should be sought before taking on the dismantling job. But when critical issues involving radioactive substances come to the fore, the country’s interests should get the better of personal profit. The ship-breakers must say no to import of any such ships for breaking into pieces.

Source: Financial Express

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