June 15, 2009

Ship Breaking in Bangladesh causes pollution

The demolition of ships is a dirty and dangerous occupation.The feasibility of ship-breaking is largely determined by the price of scrap metal.

The Beaches where ship breaking is undertaken become polluted with chemicals and toxic substances and are littered with small, sharp, iron splinters that can cause injury to workers who are usually barefoot. Accidents are not reported or recorded and workers who are affected by occupational disease or accident lose their jobs. Employers usually conceal information when a worker dies as a result of an occupational accident. In most cases, victims' families are not informed as contractors do not use proper names and addresses of their workers.

Ships are not properly cleaned before beaching. Workers are unaware of the hazards to which they are likely to be exposed and consequently develop lung problems that prevent them from working. The hatches and pockets of a vessel may contain explosive or inflammable gases; experienced cutters drill small holes in order to release these gases or fumes frequently causing severe explosions.

In Bangladesh, the provisions of the Factories Act and occupational safety measures are not taken into consideration in ship breaking. The testing of cranes, lifting gear and motorized pulleys is rarely carried out. The yards re-use ropes and chains recovered from scrapped ships without any inspection for soundness or strength. There is no system for marking the loading capacity of crane chains and other lifting equipment. Gas cutters and their helpers cut steel plates without eye protection, protective clothing, gloves or boots. Unskilled workers carry pieces of iron sheet on their shoulders; employers seem unaware of the legal load limit for workers prescribed in the Factories Act and Factories Rules.

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