The death of a welder at Border Thottam off Anna Salai on Tuesday following a diesel tank blast has brought into focus the safety of hundreds of labourers in the locality involved in dismantling old heavy vehicles.

The deceased, Munna (25), a contract labourer, was cutting up the diesel tank of a lorry when it exploded after sparks from the welding ignited the left over fuel inside. Three of his co-workers escaped with minor burns.

Border Thottam, set up more than 60 years ago is well-known for dismantling of heavy vehicles and sales of spare parts and scrap. On an average, in a month the workshops here dismantle around 15 trailer lorries with 12 wheels.

Over 1,200 workshops operate in a total of 13 streets including LGN Road, GP Lane and five lanes of Bobegam Saheb Street. While many traders sell spare parts, some employ labourers on contract basis to break up vehicles using arc welding machines.

A welder from LGN Road who didn't want to be named said, Tuesday's accident was the first in the scrap yard in many years. “Our job is tough as we have to dismantle lorries and buses and remove the parts within a given time. Many of us work with minimal safety equipment and have only facemasks and torn hand gloves. We are constantly exposed to fumes from the welding work leading to severe cough and cold,” said the 45-year-old.

Vehicles for dismantling arrive at night and labourers start work in the morning to take them apart to clear the area for the next consignment. Groups of four or five men dismantle vehicles after fixing the rate depending on the size of the vehicle. They charge between Rs.1,000 and Rs.3,000 per vehicle.

According to M.Mani, a member of the Old Iron Market Labour Union, many workers from North India who come to work for few months don't follow basic precautionary steps when compared to experienced workers. “Our members have insurance policies to cover medical expenses in case of accidents. The new comers don't bother to take insurance cover,” he added.

However, the members of the union said that if needed they would intervene to get a suitable compensation for Munna's family from his employers.

P. Shanmugam president, Chennai Border Thottam Old Motor Parts Dealers Association said the accident was “unfortunate.” “It is true that many temporary workers don't have insurance policies and don't take necessary precautions at work,” he said.

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