How safe are our malls? TUCP seeks DOLE-BFP joint fire safety inspections nationwide

January 7, 2018 - 3:43 PM
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Smoke rises from the NCCC mall in Davao City, which was struck by fire on Dec. 23. (Courtesy Otto van Dacula via Reuters)

MANILA – The Philippine economy has been growing the past several years on the back of continued robust consumption, fueled in turn by the proliferation of malls nationwide, but how safe are these malls?

The safety question was raised at the weekend by the biggest labor federation in the Philippines, as authorities struggled to put out the second major mall fire in just over two weeks.

Firefighters in Cebu City grappled at the weekend with the blaze that hit the Ayala Mall, even as authorities in Davao City had just pulled out the last body of the 38th victim in the Dec. 23 NCCC mall fire in the southern Mindanao City.

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Alarmed over what it called the mall owners’ gross violations of fire safety and healthy and safe workplace regulations that caused the death of workers and put at risks the lives of mall shoppers, labor group Trade Union Congress of the Philippines (TUCP) on Sunday called for a joint fire safety audit of malls nationwide.

It cited violations of NCCC Mall and SSI call center to fire safety codes and non-compliance with occupational safety and health regulations.

All of the 38 fatalities in the Davao fire were call center agents working for the US-based SSI firm, which leased space at the mall. Some quarters had questioned the wisdom of allowing call centers – which run 24 hours – to occupy space at the malls, which go into lockdown mode at night and limit entrances and exits for security reasons.

TUCP President Raymond Mendoza said a nationwide inspection to be conducted by the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) and the Bureau of Fire Protection (BFP) will greatly minimize fires in malls.

“It is outrageous to see another fire taking place in Metro Ayala mall and Gaisano mall in Cebu City when just 15 days ago 38 workers perished in NCCC Mall fire in Davao City. These are not isolated incidents. There is a widespread violation of malls owners to fire safety standards and compromise the safety of mall goers and well-being of mall workers to cut costs and make bigger profit for themselves,” Mendoza said.

“The ongoing Metro Ayala Mall and the Gaisano mall and the NCCC Mall fires are symptoms of the wanton disregard of department store owners to go around our building safety laws and ignore workplace policy on workers’ health and safety. We have to find out other malls nationwide how safe or how fire-risks these are,” he added.

According to Associated Labor Unions-Trade Union Congress of the Philippines (ALU-TUCP) spokesman Alan Tanjusay, the joint DOLE-BFP safety audit inspections could be conducted immediately to coincide with the forthcoming dry season when most fire incidents happen. March is traditionally marked as Fire Prevention Month, but it’s also that time of year when many fires occur.

“Fire safety audit to all malls is important because workers work here and children, old folks and entire families consider malls as home. It is the place for work, recreation and business. Malls have become very important place in the community, but how safe is our malls in the light of these twin mall fatal fire incidents? Tanjusay asked.