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Insights into Editorial: Lax on safety: On Neyveli and Visakhapatnam disasters

prevention&protection

Context:

At least six people were killed and 17 injured in a boiler blast at Neyveli Thermal Power Station in Tamil Nadu.

The blast occurred in the fifth unit of the second station as workers were resuming work.

Two deadly industrial disasters, in Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh, leading to the loss of at least eight lives and causing serious injuries to many, once again underscore the value of safety protocols.

In a boiler blast at the Neyveli thermal power station, six people were killed and a dozen workers suffered severe burns, while a toxic chemical leak at a pharmaceutical plant in Visakhapatnam led to two deaths immediately.

Recent incidents of Industrial Disasters reflects poor standards in reality:

In a boiler blast at the Neyveli thermal power station, they are regulated strictly under the Indian Boilers Act, at least on paper.

The terrible consequences of lax boiler safety were evident three years ago in Rae Bareli, when a blast at an NTPC power plant killed a few dozen people.

But States have clearly not internalised a culture of zero tolerance to boiler accidents.

The gas leak in Visakhapatnam apparently involving benzimidazole, a chemical used in pharmaceuticals, raises questions on maintenance and operational procedures.

The probe into how vapours of a stable but acutely toxic chemical escaped should lead to an upgrade to safety protocols.

In the Neyveli incident, there is a suggestion that the boiler was not in operation as it had tripped and was in the process of being revived.

Occupational safety demands that boilers are operated by trained personnel, but some of those on the ground have been described as contract employees. It will take an independent probe to determine whether cost calculations guided staffing decisions in such a hazardous sector.

About the Indian Boilers Act, 1923:

This had enacted with the objective to provide mainly for the safety of life and Property of persons from the danger of explosions of steam boilers and for achieving uniformity in registration and inspection during operation and maintenance of boilers in India.

Cause for concern now:

According to the National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA), in the recent past, over 130 significant chemical accidents have been reported in the country, which have resulted in 259 deaths and caused major injuries to more than 560 people.

There are over 1861 Major Accident Hazard (MAH) units spread across 301 districts and 25 states and three Union Territories in all zones of the country.

Further, there are thousands of registered and hazardous factories and unorganised sectors dealing with numerous ranges of hazardous material posing serious and complex levels of disaster risks.

Steps to Prevent Industrial disasters:

  1. Proper safety measures:

The proper safety measures should be adopted to avoid accidents Government also provides guidelines for enacting measures for checking accidents, these should be properly followed.

  1. Proper selection:

Any wrong selection of workers will create problems later on. Sometime employees are accident prone, they may not be properly suitable for the particular jobs. So, the selection of employees should be on the basis of properly devised tests so that their suitability for jobs is determined.

  1. Safety conscious:

The employees should be made conscious of various safety measures to be followed. There should be proper working slogans and advises to the worker for making them conscious.

  1. Enforcement of discipline:

Disciplinary action should be taken against those who flout safety measures. There may be negative punishments like warnings, lay off, terminations of workers.

  1. Incentives:

Workers should be given various incentives for maintaining safety. There may also be safety contrasts among workers. Those who follow safety instructions properly should be given monetary and non­monetary incentives.

  1. Safety committees:

Safety measures are in the interest of both employers. There should be committees consisting of representatives of workers and employees for devising and enforcing safety programmes.

  1. Proper maintenance of machines, equipment and infrastructural facilities:

Accidents may occur on account of the fault in machines or equipment. There should be proper maintenance of machines. These should be regularly checked and frequently inspected by engineering

  1. Safety training:

The workers should be given training regarding safety measures. They should know the hazards of the machines, the areas of accident proneness and the good working possible precautions in case of some accident.

Strict protocols: Strict protocols and standard operating procedures to be followed under all circumstances.

Stringent norms: Proper norms and stringent punishment in case of mishandling of equipment’s or damages caused during production process.

Emergency planning: Disaster is a next step of accident, so proper training to deal with any accidents and emergency situations.

Conclusion:

These and two other recent disasters, also at a Neyveli power plant and the LG Polymers factory in the Visakhapatnam area, have come at a stressful time when India is trying to find its feet in the midst of the pandemic.

Without meticulous care, boilers are dangerous pieces of equipment. High-pressure and superheated steam make for a lethal combination, if their release mechanism is not kept in good order, and there is an explosion.

The response of the Centre and States to industrial accidents is usually to stem public outrage by announcing compensation for victims.

A transparent inquiry that leads to a fixing of responsibility and reform is a low priority. This culture must change.

Such accidents are mostly preventable, and occur rarely in the industrialised world, because of impeccable attention to safety. India’s aspirations to industrialise should be founded on safety.