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Safety at all costs: On implementation of safety protocols in fireworks industry

 

  Context:

The death of four workers on New Year’s Day in a blast at a fireworks unit in Kalathur village of Virudhunagar district, the hub of the firecrackers sector in Tamil Nadu, reiterates the need for relentless vigil to enforce safety protocols in an industry that deals with hazardous processes.

The blast was said to have been triggered by friction caused by the mishandling of chemicals.

 

Numerous blasts in Fire cracker industries:

  1. Even though the authorities have suspended the unit’s licence and filed cases under the Indian Penal Code and Indian Explosive Substances Act, they have not cited violations such as the licence holder leasing out the unit to others and manufacturing products unauthorisedly.
  2. Over the years, the Fire crackers district has seen numerous blasts and successive State Governments had formed, at times, committees to study the factors that led to the blasts.
  3. There have been improvements in the way the firecracker industry has been functioning.
    1. For example, the extent of child labour has reduced considerably. But, with regard to adherence to and monitoring of safety protocols, the track record leaves much to be desired.
  4. The contribution of the firecracker industry to the country’s economy, especially that of Tamil Nadu, has to be acknowledged.
  5. The sector employs eight lakh people, directly and indirectly, in a backward region of the Tamil Nadu State with no assured irrigation.
  6. However, this does not absolve the industry of the responsibility to the life and the health of workers and the larger sections of society.
  7. In any investigation of the event, the authorities concerned should seriously consider translating into action some of the suggestions made by an eight-member committee constituted by the National Green Tribunal after a blast in the district that killed over 20 people in February 2021.

 

Fire services in India:

  1. Fire service is a state subject and has been included as municipal function in the XII schedule of the Constitution. The municipal corporations and local bodies are responsible for providing fire services in many states.

 

  1. In view of the shortcomings in the fire services in different states of the country and the need to upgrade it, the GoI in 1956 formed a Standing Fire Advisory Committee (SFAC) under the MHA.
  2. Fire services in India come under the 12th schedule of the Constitution under the provisions of Article 243W of the Constitution, the performance of functions listed in the 12th schedule comes under the domain of municipalities.
  3. Presently, fire prevention and firefighting services are organized by the concerned states, Union Territories (UTs) and Urban Local Bodies (ULBs).
  4. Part 4 of the National Building Code (NBC) of India, 2016, is titled ‘Fire and Life Safety’. It covers the requirements for fire prevention, life safety in relation to fire and fire protection of buildings.
  5. The NBC of India, 2016 specifies occupancy-wise classification, constructional aspects, egress requirements and protection features that are necessary to minimise danger to life and property from fire.
  6. It specifies the demarcations of fire zones, restrictions on constructions of buildings in each fire zone, classifications of buildings based on occupancy, types of building construction according to fire resistance of the structural and non-structural components and other restrictions and requirements necessary to minimize danger of life from fire, smoke, fumes or panic before the buildings can be evacuated.

 

Loopholes in Fire Safety in India:

  1. Violation of safety norms and lack of standardisation and regulation is a major cause of fire accidents, as large-scale construction of false roofs in commercial buildings and multiplexes is against the national building construction code.
  2. High rise buildings are more prone to fire accidents as they lack an adequate in-built fire protection system that makes salvaging operations difficult.
  3. Unavailability of training institutions is a impinges real-time environmental understanding.
  4. Lack of infrastructural facilities – fire stations and accommodation of personnel etc.
  5. Poorly stored goods, even though they are not flammable, helps to spread fire and hinder fire fighters gain access to the seat of the fire or reduce the effectiveness of sprinkler systems.
  6. Unclear provisions of fire safety audit in terms of scope, objective, methodology and periodicity of a fire safety audit.
  7. Lack of adequate resources, preparedness and poor fire services fail to ensure fire safety cover to the population.
  8. Lack of awareness about the safety arrangements before purchasing or hiring a flat in an apartment or before starting an institution.
  9. Faulty Wiring: PUF (polyurethane foam) used for plastic insulation carries a high risk of accidental fire as most of the times it is exposed to electrical wiring which on becoming heated due to overloading or short circuit catches fire immediately.

 

Recommendations:

  1. Headed by former judge of the Punjab and Haryana, and Madras High Courts, the panel had suggested that the Explosives Act be amended to make punishments more stringent than now, employing only certified persons for operations including mixing, filling of chemicals and the making of colour pellets, and using drones for surveillance of various units.
  2. 13th Finance commission recommendation on fire safety and organisation should be implemented.
  3. All Municipal Corporations with a population of more than one million (2001 census) must put in place a fire hazard response and mitigation plan for their respective jurisdictions
  4. A portion of the grant allocated by the commission to the Urban Local Bodies may be spent on the revamping the Fire services in their jurisdiction. The ULBs may extend financial support to State Fire Services Department in this effort.
  5. Proper demarcation of entry and exit points in crowded buildings, installation of firefighting equipment and their regular maintenance, periodic renewal of No-objection certificates by building owners in order to ensure fire preparedness.

 

Conclusion:

Fire Safety Audit should be made mandatory for all over India and the audit work should be entrusted to Third Party Agencies, who have expertise in it.

It is reasonable to have a fire safety audit in every year in every occupancy. Above all, the success of fire prevention and fire protection mainly depend upon the active co-operation from all personnel in an occupancy.

There is no dearth of ideas to improve the working of the industry but what is required is that the authorities, both at the levels of Central and State Governments, should ensure the enforcement of safety protocols.