K.P.M. Basheer

Quantity of gunpowder stored and number of workers were more than allowed

KOCHI: Gross violation of the Explosives Rules led to the explosion in the fireworks manufacturing unit at Mezhathur in Palakkad district on Thursday which killed five workers.

A preliminary investigation by R. Venugopal, controller of explosives, Petroleum and Explosives Safety Organisation (PESO, formerly Explosives Department), Kochi, and Rajesh Chauhan, deputy controller, showed that there was utter disregard for the prescribed safety norms at the unit. The unit held much higher quantity of gunpowder than was permitted, it was suspected to have used banned chemicals and employed more workers than prescribed, the PESO officials found.

The manufacturer had a licence for storing only 15 kg gunpowder, but he had held 1,200 kg of the explosive material. The manufacturer, who is now absconding, seemed to have used potassium chlorite, which is prohibited in the use of making fireworks. This is to add sound to the fireworks. Only a chemical analysis can establish if prohibited chemicals were used.

The manufacturer had also employed nearly 20 people, violating the prescribed man limit of two to four workers.

The PESO has come to a preliminary conclusion that the explosion was caused by a spark triggered by friction while a worker was sealing the cap of a firework using an iron rod at day temperature of more than 40 Celsius.

Fireworks makers are specifically cautioned against using iron rods for the capping purpose. The explosion was so heavy that one of the victims had been blown away six metres. The unit produced such fireworks items as gundu, dyna, amittu among others.

There were some 10,000 ‘oala padakkam’ in the unit which itself showed that the unit held much higher quantity of gunpowder than permitted.