Spurt in industrial accidents in Visakhapatnam region during past couple of years have become a matter of serious public concern. Even before bitter memories of one accident were buried, fresh incidents are rattling the region forcing people living near the industrial areas be in constant fear and tension.
The latest accident was the blast at the cooling tower of HPCL’s Visakh Refinery in which one person died and many sustained critical burns. This happened after fire burnt the Crude Distillation Unit-3 on May 16 without any casualties. HPCL was at the receiving end from various quarters for a long time after 1997 vapour cloud explosion at the refinery which claimed 60 lives.
Visakhapatnam Steel Plant was in news when a blast at the oxygen pressure reduction station in the Steel Melt Shop killed 19 on June 13, 2012. Incidentally, on May 1 same year, an explosion at the new blast furnace-3 killed two contract workers.
Less said about the safety record at Jawaharlal Nehru Pharma City is better. One unit got completely burnt recently following multiple blasts. Frequent accidents in the area led to an agitation by the villagers of Tadi sometime ago demanding their relocation. A fire at Heritage Foods and another at Hetero Drugs near Nakkapalli had claimed six lives. A reactor blast at Nagarjuna Agrichem near Srikakulam last year forced the panic-stricken villagers from the neighbourhood to flee to distant places.
A review meeting held by Director-General of Fire Safety N. Sambasiva Rao revealed here sometime ago that most of the chemical units in north Andhra were functioning without obtaining ‘no-objection certificate.’ Lack of manpower in the AP Pollution Control Board, Inspectorate of Factories and other agencies is also stated to be one of the reasons for not enforcing safety and pollution control measures.
Chennai-based fire safety consultant G.N. Venakatasiva Subramaniam told The Hindu that all the hazardous industries were supposed to conduct safety audit, identify risks and lapses and take corrective measures. “I wonder whether HPCL had any disaster management plan and investigated thoroughly the accidents occurred in the past to prevent recurrence,” he commented.