Industrial Hazards and Accidents: Learning From Mistakes

Posted on July 20, 2010 in Specials

By Sango Bidani:

Industrial accidents and hazards have become the order of the day with new technologies evolving everyday and few people knowing how to use these technologies. This dangerous trend is prevalent more so in the developing countries, not to say that this does not happen in developed societies. India has been a country which has been at the receiving end of industrial hazards since the 1980s. It all started with the tragic Bhopal Gas Tragedy and then the oleum gas leak in Delhi caused by Sriram Industries but sadly we have not learnt our lessons from these incidents, with the result that even today we continue to face industrial hazards, cases in point being the recent gas leaks in Mumbai and Bengal’s Durgapur district, not to forget the equally tragic situation of people affected by the Mayapuri radioactive scrap deal. In this article, we will first try to understand the definition of industrial hazard, then go on to talk about each industrial hazard mentioned above and in what way can we prevent such incidents from taking place in the future.

It should be clear to that industrial hazard come under technological hazards and they are different from social hazards that include terrorism, which is the most prominent one. Now, an industrial hazard is a hazard which occurs when one strives for commercial gains in quick time and mostly industrial hazards happen in an industrial area which is making harmful substances like dyes, chemicals and radioactive materials. These industrial hazards have disastrous environmental repercussions as well as cause great casualty to the human habitation in the factory and around it.

Now, having understood what an industrial hazard is, we proceed to look at some of India’s greatest industrial accidents and hazards and how they have impacted the lives of people and also what solutions should we draw out so that such things don’t take place in the future.

  1. The first and foremost incident that comes to mind when we talk of industrial accidents was caused due to a hazardous stored chemical called Methyl Isocyanate. – the Bhopal Gas tragedy where so many people were killed. The gas escaped into the air leading to many people having breathing problems, eyesight loss, nausea and vomiting. The reason for the escape of the gas into the air was the fact that the storage tanks in which they were stored were poorly maintained and there had been no safety norms in place. The incident could have claimed much less number of lives had the hazardous chemical industry been set up where human habitation had been lesser. Sadly this was not the case.
  2. The second major industrial accident which was caused due to use of hazardous chemicals was in the capital in 1986 where because of the leak of oleum gas into the air 1 person died. It is after this incident that the Supreme Court in a landmark judgment said that any industry involved in the manufacture of inherently dangerous chemicals or hazardous chemicals will have to indemnify all those who suffer on account of the carrying on of such hazardous or inherently dangerous activity regardless of whether it is carried on carefully or not. So this clearly means that the onus is completely on the enterprise which is makes the hazardous chemical.
  3. The third and rather recent incident was the one in the Mayapuri industrial area, Delhi, where radioactive scraps were found leading to an industrial hazard for the people who were selling the scrap material. In the process, out of the 6 people admitted because of skin discoloration and other defects as a result of working with these hazardous materials, 1 died after he had multiple organ failure and others continue to battle for life even as their blood platelet level continues to fall down to dangerous levels. Apparently, these scrap dealers claim that this radioactive source came from the Delhi University’s Chemistry department which was later proved to be true, but the question that continues to puzzle the layman is that how could such an industrial hazardous mechanism continue to flourish for such a long time? Investigations are still on to ascertain what made this industrial hazard flourish and what were the other sources from which they got there hazardous chemicals.
  4. The fourth and fifth incidents are the most recent ones where industrial hazardous chemicals were released due to which many people fell sick. While in Mumbai, more than a 100 people fell sick after they inhaled the hazardous chlorine gas that leaked into the atmosphere. And shocking as it may sound, this is not the first time that chlorine gas leakage has been reported in Mumbai. An instance in fact was reported in 2003 and then later in 2007 with this recent one being the latest.
  5. The fifth and the last of industrial accidents that were caused due to a hazardous chemical was reported where 28 people took ill after gas leaked from the scrubber area of Blast Furnace 2 in Durgapur.

So, what can we do to ensure that such incidents don’t take place in the future? The first thing that we have to ensure is that when a factory is being set up it has a clearance that shows that the industry that they are going to open is not an industrially hazardous one and also that this is not going to harm the environment in any way. That is, an environmental clearance should be there with the industry or factory owner. Secondly, if at all an industrially hazardous industry has to be set up it should be set up in an area where there is less human habitation and it should be the responsibility of the factory or industry owner to let the people know who are working in the factory about alternate escape routes in case a gas leak does take place.

The writer is a correspondent of Youth Ki Awaaz. With his interests in socio-political issues, he is more than willing to change the ‘system‘. He sees himself as an ethical journalist in the years to come.