The fireworks industry is passing through a turbulent period with repeated fatal accidents. Proper employee training and adhering to safety norms such as avoiding the accumulation of stock and over-crowding of workers are the strategies to be implemented. However, the following issues remain unidentified yet.
Avenues for risk
Fireworks factories are licensed and controlled both by the Petroleum Explosives Safety Organisation (PESO) and District Collectors. The factories licensed by the latter are small, comprising a handful of working sheds and are authorised to manufacture any one of the few common fireworks items in a day, involving only 15 kg of explosives (as against 2000 to 3000 kg permitted to large units licensed by Chief Controller of Explosives) at any one point of time and can employ less than 20 workers only.
District officials are ill-equipped in terms of staff strength and lack technical knowledge to exert sufficient control over the manufacture of fireworks in these units. Not only are the man limit norms violated, a wide variety of items that are beyond their infrastructure and knowledge are also manufactured. An accident in a District Collector licensed fireworks unit on July 7, 2009 at Vadakkampatti village in Madurai district of Tamil Nadu, killing 17 persons and injuring more than 25 of a total of more than 80 workers employed is a glaring example of this case.
To ensure harmony in control, the Explosives Rules 2008 should be amended so that all licensing and control of any fireworks manufacturing fall within the ambit of PESO. Controlling the affairs of a fireworks unit about 15 years ago just required a knowledge of the Explosives Rules and knowledge of the safety measures to be adopted in fireworks factories. At present, the range of items manufactured, the number of chemicals used, the process sequence and the methods adopted are so high and complex that it requires a deeper understanding of pyrotechnic chemistry. Training prior to posting and the creation of a pool of officers fully aware of the fireworks manufacturing process is essential to exercise better control over post- accident situations.
The product approval system followed currently is quite vague and falls short of perfection and implementation. The department shall also standardise and publish the list of chemicals that can be used by the manufacturing units.
Of late, it has become a profitable business for many newcomers to build fireworks units and to lease out, against rules, individual sheds to different people who run the factory, in disguise, as single units. Such multiple leasing leads to over-crowding in sheds causing potential threats to safety. Knowledge and competency of the promoter should be ensured before licences are granted.
The Indian fireworks industry lacks readily available indigenous technical resources and knowledge to be shared. The Tamil Nadu government should establish a public library for the industry in its yet-to-take off ‘Fireworks Research and Development Centre’ at Sivakasi so that the manufacturers may update their knowledge from this resource. Knowledge enrichment can help a lot to reduce accidents. Let not the delight of Diwali be lost on account of fatal accidents that are certainly avoidable.