Life-saving equipments were absent on-site though the company had approvals to show they were present
Industrial accidents have happened in the last few months like never before. Since the styrene leakage incident at Vishakhapatnam’s LG Polymers Pvt Ltd, many major and minor industrial accidents have been reported. Most of these accidents happened in the chemicals sector.
On June 29, 2020, a gas leak occurred late in the night at a Sainor Life Sciences Pvt Ltd unit in Visakhapatnam, resulting in the deaths of two people, while four suffered injuries. The company makes Active Pharmaceutical Ingredients (API), used in manufacturing drugs.
According to the deputy chief inspector of factories, Visakhapatnam, the incident happened while transferring Omeprazol (mother liquor) from the centrifuge to the reactor. Mother liquor is the liquid remaining after a substance has crystallised. This resulted in the leakage of Benzimidazole gas.
The reactor was not washed thoroughly. The deputy chief inspector mentioned that no proper procedure was followed for coupling the two chambers. This was highlighted as the reason for the leakage of the gas.
However, the inquiry committee set up to probe the tragedy had a different version of how events unfolded. It found that the incident happened due to hydrogen sulfide leakage from a reactor. Two employees who inhaled it, died on the spot. Four others went unconscious.
The accident occurred in the process of pumping the crude solvent to the reactor. Delhi-based Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) could not get a copy of the inquiry committee report.
It all does not seem to add up. Was it the leakage of Benizimidazole or hydrogen sulfide that caused the deaths? What was there in the unwashed reactor? Where exactly did the gas leak from and what was the reason behind it?
However, one thing is clear that the accident seemed to be caused by human error and casual approach of the shift in-charge, who was one of those who perished in the incident.
During the inspection of the site by the inquiry committee, it was found that oxygen cylinders were not available on site. Also, the safety alarm system was found to be absent.
An important point which is highlighted by the committee report is that according to the documents submitted by the industry, all safety equipment was in place and approvals were provided based on thorough inspections by the concerned authorities. This also raises a question on the authenticity of safety approvals given to industries by officials.
The company, thus, had knowingly got approvals for safety systems which were not in place and could have saved the lives of workers, had they been there. The management is at fault and should be held responsible, along with the issuing authority.
Companies should understand the importance of various safety systems, evolve new approaches to train their workers in a better way and follow proper sequence of procedures while handling and managing toxic chemicals and substances.
Since the LG Polymer incident took place, CSE has advocated that rather than companies, individual officers should be held responsible for such accidents. We have also stressed that there is an urgent need to strengthen the deterrence mechanism and that such incidents will keep occurring, endangering the lives of people working on the ground.
According to the district collector of Visakhapatnam, the family of the deceased will get Rs 35 lakh as compensation from the company and Rs 15 lakh from the Chief Minister’s Relief Fund. A job will also be given to a person in the family.
But one thing is sure. All this cannot compensate for the life of a person.
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