LAHORE: Seven workers hired by the Habib Construction Company to work on the Orange Line Metro Train Project died and 14 others were injured on Wednesday in a fire that erupted on the third storey of a makeshift residence for workers in the Mehmood Booti area, near the Lahore Ring Road.
The fire sparked when an LPG cylinder on the third floor blew up at around 1:40pm. Rescue 1122 officials, however, said they had received a call about it at 2:03pm.
They took 21 workers to Khwaja Saeed Hospital where doctors pronounced seven of them dead. A medical officer at the hospital said five of those injured had been discharged while nine were taken to Mayo Hospital.
More than 250 workers hired by Habib Construction Company to work on the Metro Train Project lived on the residential site in Mehmood Booti, said Sarfaraz, one of the labourers working on the metro train project.
The workers would designate their spaces to sleep in by hanging clothes around their charpoys. Around 25 labourers who worked in the evening shift were asleep on the third floor when the fire broke out on Wednesday.
Examine: Orange Line battles
Sarfaraz was at a nearby tea stall when he heard a loud bang and saw fire engulf the third floor in no time. “I rushed to the spot and saw two labourers covered in flames jump from the third floor to save their lives.” Sarfaraz ran to help them and then called up Rescue 1122. He claimed that the emergency service arrived an hour and a half later, by which time the two workers he had helped had died.
Most of the workers had saved themselves by jumping from the third floor, said Waseem, another labourer. When the Rescue 1122 officials arrived, they recovered the charred bodies of labourers who had perished in the fire and took those injured to the hospital for treatment. Sarfaraz said more than 200 workers were on duty or had left for lunch at that time otherwise the death toll could have been higher.
A Rescue 1122 official said they had seized more than 10 LPG cylinders, which the labourers used for cooking and heating purposes, from the building.
Cantonment Division Operations SP Tahir Rehman told Dawn they would register a case against the owner of the Habib Construction Company for not ensuring safety measures in the residential space for workers.
On May 24, 2016, seven workers hired for the Orange Line Metro Train project had died and four others were injured when the wall of an under-construction warehouse fell on them while they were asleep. In July 2016, four workers were killed and as many others injured when a truck carrying material for the project collided with a rickshaw and two motorcycles on GT Road at Daroghawala Chowk. In another incident, four workers associated with the project died from an electric shock when a crane touched high voltage wires near Thokar Niaz Baig.
Sohail Janjua, a spokesperson for the Lahore Development Authority, also stressed that the responsibility for ensuring safety of the workers lay with the Habib Construction Company.
SP Rehman said they were investigating the incident to fix the responsibility of negligence that had led to the deaths of seven workers.
Condemning the lack of support from the government, Progressive Labour Federation general secretary Niaz Khan said workers rights organisations have been demanding safe working conditions for workers hired for the train project for almost a year. He said the workers, hired through a sub-contractor, were denied safety, medical, social security allowance and insurance. “The government announces different packages after every tragedy but never fulfils its promises”.
Khalid Mehmood of the Labour Education Foundation said such incidents took place because the government had failed to design a policy to ensure the protection of workers. He said they were further denied the right to unionise and ensure their rights. “Workers’ safety is the least of the government’s concerns in completing this project.”
Three of the seven deceased are identified as Sajjid, 18, Muhammad Dilawar, 19, Dilawar, 26, while the identities of the rest are yet to be ascertained. The injured include Arif, 20, Naeem, 22, Amjad, 18, Younis, 28, Abid, 22, Ramzan, 20, Naveed, 19, Samiul Rehman, 18 and Abbas.