Only after some of them started examining with the leakage detectors, they could confirm high concentration of carbon monoxide and other gases.

The blast furnace gas leakage at the Thermal Power Plant (TPP) of Visakhapatnam Steel Plant could not be detected on time, even as employees positioned in the control room experienced discomfort for over an hour.

Eyewitnesses said the leakage could have occurred around 9 p.m. on Monday as the employees present in the control room felt suffocation from that time. Only after some of them started examining with the leakage detectors, they could confirm high concentration of carbon monoxide and other gases. Officially, the leakage was confirmed at 10.20 p.m.

No auto shut provision?

The impact of the incident after lighting up Boiler-5 in the TPP with BF gas was minimised due to the presence of mind of three of the employees who closed the valves manually. This gives credence to the talk that there is no auto shut provision in the event of an exigency.

Sources told The Hindu that the control room was not equipped with standard gas alarm and analyser and standard operating procedures were not followed. The leakage could have been detected on time had there been standard gas alarm and analyser.

While the management said the exact reason of the leakage could be confirmed only after completion of a probe from all angles, a source familiar with boiler operation, said gas leakage could have been caused as a bleeder was positioned in the open. Sources said the two-decade-old Boiler-5 was declared fit after capital repairs and was put on operation on Monday. It was reportedly run on coal till 8.30 p.m. and BF gas was used to run it later.

After an hour or so, TPP control room staff felt nausea and suffocation but they could not think of gas leakage even as they were in constant touch with Energy Management Department.

The safety preparedness of the VSP after two accidents – two killed on May 2 and 19 on June 13 blasts – has drawn flak from employees’ unions.

Union leaders D. Adinarayana (AITUC), Mantri Rajasekhar and Neerukonda Ramachandra Rao said safety lapse was quite evident as still critical areas of operations were being outsourced and there was pressure on everyone to achieve targets.

More In: Visakhapatnam