New Report

Despite some progress, garment factories need to strengthen fire safety

The latest report by Better Work Vietnam showed that fire safety works in major garment factories in the South have yet to meet the national and international standards despite certain progress.

Press release | 11 December 2014
HANOI (ILO News) – Major garment factories in the South have shown some improvements in fire safety over the past four years but non-compliance with national and international standards in this area remains persistently high, the latest report by Better Work Vietnam has shown.

As a partnership between the International Labour Organization (ILO) and the International Finance Corporation (IFC), Better Work Vietnam aims to improve working conditions and promote competitiveness in Viet Nam’s apparel and footwear industries through combined assessment, advisory and training services.

“Fires safety has been a critical issue for many factories in Vietnam over the last few years. Fires can cause great damage to business, not to mention human lives, so this is why we are committed to work with them to make improvements,” said Better Work Viet Nam manager Nguyen Hong Ha.

The annual thematic report, which covers 60 factories that have undergone four annual assessments, shows major improvements in the area of chemical and hazardous substance storage. Non-compliance rates in this area have fallen by almost two thirds between the first assessment in 2011 and the fourth one in 2014.

However, the report reveals that fifty percent of the observed factories did not ensure the accessibility of fire exits. The exits were found to be blocked or locked during working hours, which represents static progress since the second assessment period in 2012 and a deterioration since the first assessment in 2011.

According to Better Work assessments, many of the problems in this area stem from stock being placed in a disorderly manner around the factory floor, thus obstructing emergency exits, particularly during peak order periods.

“The accessibility of emergency exits is critical to ensure fires safety. Fixing this problem is relatively simple and straightforward once found but many factories lack a systematic approach to prevent it from reoccurring in the future,” said the head of Better Work Vietnam.

In addition, more than a third of the factories were found to be lacking clearly marked exits and escape routes in both visit three and visit four, while more than 30 percent did not maintain electrical wiring, and more than a quarter still lack adequate fire-fighting equipment, all over the same period.

Other commonly observed non-compliance issues concern fire detection systems, firefighting training for workers and inspection and maintenance of machines, equipment, buildings and stores.

“While progress has been made in some areas, in others there is a clear need for factories to show greater leadership in identifying risks and taking proactive preventative measures to prevent fires," said Ha.

“To ensure the sustainable development and competitiveness of Viet Nam’s apparel sector, it’s important to make this key industry a safe place for its workers and a low risk industry for international investment. This requires continued efforts from the Government, employers and the trade union.”

Better Work called on the Government to emphasize fire safety when issuing permits for construction. It also recommends strengthening the guidance, inspection and enforcement of fire safety laws, which require all factories to attend fire safety training, have appropriate exits doors and automatic fire-fighting equipment such as sprinklers for certain areas.

Meanwhile, the trade union should take a proactive role in fire prevention strategies in enterprises and provide a functioning channel for workers to report concerns and relay information on fire risks to factory management.

Better Work also suggested that the employers’ organization and sectoral association should step up efforts to raise awareness of fire safety among their members, and to encourage proper investment from factories in related training for workers and in necessary equipment and maintenance to prevent fires.

Funded by the Australian, Canadian, Dutch and Swiss Governments, Better Work Vietnam now covers more than 300 factories in the north and the south with nearly 300,000 workers. Most of the enterprises are in the apparel industry, including the biggest garment exporters in Viet Nam. More than 50 global buyers subscribe to the programme.