22.5% of survivors’ physical health recovery is getting worse
In terms of mental health, 57.8% of survivors live always in fear, and 28.9% have tension
54.5% of Rana Plaza survivors are still unemployed
47% of survivors are still unemployed due to their physical health condition
36.3% of employed survivors joined the various garment industries
46.5% of survivors’ monthly family income is below Tk15,000
Around 55% of the survivors of the Rana Plaza building collapse – the deadliest industrial disaster in the country’s history – still remain unemployed, mainly due to their physical health condition, despite a decline in the unemployment rate since 2014, according to a study.
Among them, 89% have been without work for the past five to eight years, while 5.5% have been unemployed for the last three to four years.
Around 23% of the survivors’ physical health recovery is getting worse, down from 56.5% last year, according to the survey conducted by the Institute of Social Business (ISB) on behalf of ActionAid Bangladesh.
The findings highlight the ongoing challenges the survivors face in accessing sustainable employment opportunities and the need for continued efforts to improve their economic security.
The findings were revealed on Wednesday at a multilogue titled “The Rana Plaza Experience: Tragedy to Transformation” at a convention hall in Dhaka on the 10th anniversary of the disaster.
The study was carried out among 200 survivors and the families of deceased workers affected by the tragedy. Among the respondents, 69.5% were women, and 30.5% were men.
The findings highlight several key points related to the current condition of the survivors, including their current physical health status, psychosocial well-being and financial status.
The study also found that the key reason for those who are currently unemployed is their physical health conditions, and the number has dropped to 47% from 67% last year. Additionally, 21% of respondents reported that they could not find a suitable job.
These findings suggest that physical health continues to be a significant barrier to employment for many survivors, emphasising the need for continued efforts to support their recovery and improve their access to employment opportunities.
The study says that the physical health status of the survivors has not shown any significant improvement. The proportion of survivors claiming to be completely stable has decreased from 17% in 2014 to 7.5% in 2023, while the percentage of respondents whose health has deteriorated over the years increased from 9% to 22.5%.
More than one-third of the respondents – 36.8% – mentioned they are suffering from back pain, while a quarter – 24.6% – complained about suffering from headaches. Other health problems include breathing problems, hand, and leg injuries, inability to stand and walk properly, vision and kidney problems.
In terms of psychosocial health, although the rate of people who felt fully recovered is now declining, the overall percentage of survivors claiming to be more or less stable has almost doubled.
However, despite the positive trend, there is still a significant proportion – 29% – of traumatised survivors whose conditions are deteriorating.
Among the 29% of traumatised survivors, 57.8% of respondents are living in fear because of their experience of building collapse, while 28.9% complained of being tense about their health and safety.
The findings of the study also show that 36.3% of survivors, who have recovered from physical and mental health issues, are currently employed in garment factories.
In the previous year, the rate was 14.5%. These suggest that an increasing number of survivors are returning to work after overcoming health challenges, which could reflect positive developments in their overall well-being and ability to engage in employment.
The study additionally revealed that survivors’ family income scenario changed significantly compared to last year. The monthly family income of half of the survivors was found to be Tk10,001-15,000, while around 19.5% earn a monthly family income of Tk15,001-20,000, and 11% get more than Tk20,000 per month.
The study findings further indicate that the household income of the majority of respondents is insufficient to cover their family expenses. Nearly half of the survivors reported a monthly expenditure of around Tk15,000. Moreover, many respondents do not have any savings to rely on in case of unforeseen expenses, such as a health emergency.
Industrial safety improvement
Another 200 current garment workers were assessed in this study for safety situations in their factories to understand the industrial improvement over the last ten years.
Most respondents were women. More than half of the respondents felt that the frequency of initiatives taken by factory management was inadequate.
Also, a total of 93% of the respondents expressed concern about their health status and uncertainty about their ability to work in the long run. Around 60% of the respondents highlighted several risks present in their factory, including machinery problems, the absence of fire safety measures, inadequate ventilation and lighting, as well as a lack of health safety measures.
Around 19.9% of the respondents reported that their factories lack firefighting equipment, while 23.4% stated that emergency fire exits are not available.
Additionally, 20.9% of respondents mentioned that their factories do not have a medical centre, and a similar proportion indicated that there is no doctor or nurse available on-site.
In the multilogue session, ActionAid Bangladesh’s Country Director Farah Kabir said, “This year we conducted the study, and we also looked at Rana Plaza survivors and how they are. There have been changes, but many of them are suffering both physically and mentally. The most important thing is that they have not been able to find economic opportunities to move on. Rana Plaza survivors need support to find alternative livelihoods.”
Tuomo Poutiainen, country director at the ILO Country Office for Bangladesh, said, “It is important to recognise the significant strides made in occupational safety and health in the garment industry following the Rana Plaza tragedy.”
“The transformation should serve as a model for all industries, emphasising the importance of creating a culture of safety where workers can freely express their concerns and employers’ proactive measures to address them. Ultimately, it is the responsibility of the government to implement the policies and regulations to ensure the safety of all workers,” he added.
Julia Jesmin, joint inspector general at the Department of Inspection for Factories Establishments (DIFE); Rajekuzzaman Ratan, general secretary at Somajtantrik Sramik Front; Wajedul Islam Khan, general secretary at Trade Union Centre; and Harun Ur Rashid, a journalist at Deutsche Welle (DW), among others, attended the programme.
A photo exhibition highlighting the Rana Plaza incident also took place at the event.