Permanent staffers numbering 17,500 work in the steel plant which has an annual production capacity of three million tonnes

Deployment of inexperienced employees in critical areas of work in the newly commissioned blast furnace might have led to the accident at the Visakhapatnam Steel Plant in which two contract workers were burnt alive on Tuesday.

Insiders say, while the blast furnace I and II have 1,200 permanent workers, the new blast furnace has less number of workers.

In fact, 17,500 permanent staffers work for the steel plant, which has an annual production capacity of three million tonnes.

After expansion was taken up to double its capacity at a cost of Rs.12,500 crore, which was almost completed, an estimated 1,700 jobs were created, sources told The Hindu on Wednesday.

In tune with the changing scenario, offloading and outsourcing were being preferred, union leaders alleged. Sources said improper levelling by observing the TV monitor in the skimmer might have led to sudden gushing out of hot metal. Otherwise, the accident could have been prevented, preliminary inquiries revealed.

Seeing the slag and hot metal, one is supposed to assess to what extent sliding should be done to drain out the liquid slag.

Sending employees from the blast furnace department to foreign trips for training and later posting them in other departments has also come under severe criticism.

Blast furnace converts iron oxides into liquid iron by using carbon monoxide and hydrogen as chemical reducing agents. It is run at a temperature of 1,400 to 1,600 degree centigrade.

The new blast furnace commissioned last week along with turbo blower, water and power system at a cost of Rs.3,800 crore was part of 6.3 million tonne expansion project. This was stated to be the biggest in any steel plant in India.

Steel Plant Employees' Union general secretary V. Dhanaraju and Visakha Steel Employees' Union honorary president Padi Trinadha Rao demanded a high-level probe into the accident.

More In: Visakhapatnam