Put safety first at all times

I HAD to wait for a few days to gather my thoughts on the tahfiz school fire last week in Datuk Keramat, Kuala Lumpur, where 23 people lost their lives.

The arson was reported to have been triggered by a heated argument between the students and a group of children.

The children were reported to have set the school alight with a gas tank taken from a nearby store. Twenty-one students and two teachers died because they were unable to leave the building through its only exit.

Parents and teachers involved with religious schools are saying this incident was fated. Somehow, the acts of man, or the lack of action and disregard for safety rules mean little to them.

Personally, I had to wait to write this column because I was angry and I still am.

I am angry because records show that there have been fires in 212 such institutions, yet no action has been taken until after the fact.

I am angry that the people living nearby who would have noticed the argument between the children did not take action to defuse the situation.

I am angry that City Hall knew of the school's existence yet did nothing to ensure the building was certified safe.

I am angry that this school was not regulated by the government. In April, the government gave out a whopping RM76 million to 819 tahfiz schools. After this tragic incident, the government announced a pledge of RM30 million for these schools.

I am also angry that parents were willing to put their children in imminent danger, and then say it was purely fate. How is it fated when one fails to even ensure the safety of a building?

How is it fate that teenagers lose their heads after a heated argument and decide to burn down a school?

In my view, we can talk about fate only when every other measure has been put in place to ensure safety, and then a tragic incident occurs. Timely human intervention could have prevented this tragedy.

I am sorry to have to say this, but having a passenger plane randomly shot down in an error of judgment is an act of fate. People burnt alive, piled up in front of the only exit of a building is not fate.

If builders, offshore engineers and even airline cabin crew were to attribute accidents and disasters to fate, they would be fired from their jobs.

How is it that we can calmly accept the 23 deaths with such an attitude?

I don't understand it. I will let my anger subside because there are others willing to accept that it is fate; because there are those willing to let children die needlessly rather than admit to flaws.

This is an issue of safety, bullying and name calling. It is also an issue involving drugs, as we learnt from a leak in the police force.

How can we watch more young children go to schools where safety rules are not strictly followed?

Safety rules save lives and are not meant to be a hassle. We need to put safety first in all areas of our lives: at home, at work, at school, in the playground, on the road and in the train. Start now.

Hafidz Baharom is a public relations practitioner. Comments: letters@thesundaily.com