Since the workforce running industrial units has changed post-lockdown, accidents can happen, they said
Activists and experts on June 3, 2020, called for utmost safety to be exercised while operating plants after the novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19) lockdown, as a blast ripped through a chemicals factory in Gujarat, killing five people and injuring 35 others.
Sources in Bharuch disclosed that it was around 12.30 pm that a thunderous blast was experienced at the Dahej Special Economic Zone. A massive plume of black smoke could be seen rising from the spot where the Yashasvi Rasayan Pvt Ltd unit stood.
The local residents said the intensity of the blast was so high that people living in Bharuch, Ankleshwar and even Bhavnagar, that lies on the opposite side of the Gulf of Khambhat, heard the noise.
The locals in Bharuch and Ankleshwar also claim to have felt vibrations. They said the impact of the blast was visible and audible in at least 25 kilometres of the area around the site of the accident.
Sources said at least 15 fire tenders were pressed into action to douse the fire that could have resulted from the solvents or other agro chemicals lying in the factory.
They further disclosed that the industrial units located in the close vicinity of Yashasvi Rasayan Pvt Ltd also suffered damage in the form of glass panes being blown and even staircases being damaged.
Meanwhile, the carbon emission has been huge and people living in the adjoining villages of Luvara and Lakhigam have been put on alert and might be evacuated if there is need to do so.
Sources said while two persons died on the spot, another succumbed to burn injuries while being treated.
“While it is being said that the accident resulted from a boiler blast, this does not look probable given its exceptionally high intensity,” Yogesh Pandey of Bharuch-based Safety Health and Environment Association, said.
“It could have been the result of an exothermic or runaway chemical reaction since multiple chemical reactions keep going on in such units. The high plumes of smoke could be because of the solvent burning. The details are yet to be analysed,” he noted.
“It needs to be investigated what chemicals were being used, what was the raw material, the kind of vessels where the reactions were taking place, their pressure, temperature, etc. The management too will need to provide its facts and figures,” he added.
Pandey said there were around 450 highly hazard-prone installations in Gujarat, of which 90 were in Bharuch alone.
“While utmost care is taken in running them, accidents are always a possibility. While the nature of production remains the same, people operating them keep changing. The only way to avoid these accidents resulting from lacunae and unsafe conditions is to ensure that people right from the owners of such plants to the labourers hired through contractors are made fully aware of safe operating procedures,” Pandey said.
Vadodara-based social and environmental activist Rohit Prajapati told this reporter: “We had pointed to the possibility of such accidents almost a month back when the partial opening of lockdown was initiated. Operating industrial units after such a long period of lockdown needs to be done with utmost care,” he said.
Besides taking care of the maintenance aspect, Prajapati said, operators needed to keep in mind that the workforce that was carrying out production in a large number of units had migrated home. The persons who were now carrying out operations, were new and needed to exercise a lot of caution, he added.
“The most important aspect that needs to be highlighted is that officials who have been hired by the government to ensure industrial safety and pollution control should be assigned these tasks only,” Prajapati noted.
“They should not be utilised for carrying out other tasks that have emerged because of the lockdown. These officials have an important, dedicated task to perform and their expertise should be utilised only there,” he added.
Prajapati said there had to be a proper plan in place to start operating potentially hazardous chemical units that were abruptly shut following the announcement of the lockdown.
He pointed that in certain cases, chemical units required several days to be shut and they needed to be opened after due inspections.
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