Disaster struck on Wednesday evening when a four-storey factory collapsed in the Sundar industrial area in Lahore. The incident has already claimed 21 lives, with many more feared to be trapped in the debris. Rescue operation is still underway, as the search for workers continues, but the death toll is dreaded to rise as over 250 factory workers were working on the construction site at the time when it fell, many of who are children between the ages of 10-16 years as well as women.

In what can be described as a massive rescue operation nearly 40 vehicles, including 22 ambulances, eight specialised vehicles with cutter devices of the Rescue 1122 from Lahore, Kasur, Sheikhupura, Gujranwala and Nankana Sahib districts were taking part in the rescue operation with the army also joining in the rescue work after an emergency was declared because of the sensitivity of the situation. The response work has been relatively slow as over 100 people have been rescued almost 17 hours after the incident took place, but considering the limited resources and our general lack of preparedness for large scale damages like this one, rescue efforts must be appreciated under the given circumstances.

According to Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif, the earthquake of 26th October, affected the building, but according to labourers the owner continued to build an extension. This sheds light on the poor safety standards in the construction and maintenance of buildings in Pakistan. The inferno that killed over 250 people at a garments factory in Karachi’s Baldia Town on Sept. 11 2014, is a prime example of not just poor workplace safety standards in industries but massive corruption within government institutions that leads to the flouting of building laws and lack of owner responsibility. For a building owner to ignore safety warnings and to continue extension without carrying out post-earthquake evaluation of the affected building just goes to show the lack of laws in place to prevent such occupational hazards and criminal neglect.

Construction of buildings must go through strict checks and balances, with safety of the workers an utmost priority and this can only be done with stricter enforcement of building codes and workplace safety regulations. Such incidents are avoidable and have been too frequent in the past year. The government must take notice of the root of the problem, instead of handing out compensation checks and sweeping the dust under the rug till the next calamity claims precious lives.