Industrial safety has been a cause of concern in Visakhapatnam following a series of incidents, the fire mishap at HPCL being the latest case. Even a minor incident of Industrial mishap jolts the denizens into recalling the disquieting memory of the major LG Polymers plant claiming 12 lives and making thousands fall sick due to leakage of styrene gas in May last year. Though the state government several measures and an action plan, a coordinated implementation of the same is lacking, with the result that mishaps, minor or major, continue to take place. There are nearly 211 industrial units including 19 hazardous in and around the city.
At the time of phase 1 of a special drive taken up for industrial safety in the wake of last year’s mishap, authorities inspected 84 units and served notices on 76 for non-compliance with safety norms, and cases were booked against 17 units. Subsequently, they also inspected the remaining units and booked cases against 12 units. They issued directions to take up a series of rectifications and submit safety compliance reports. Sadly, that turned out to be a one-time affair with no further follow-up on corrective steps or compensation to the families of victims.
Highly placed sources privy to industry safety maintain that several major and inherent issues remain unaddressed, resulting in a compromise on safety norms by the hazardous industrial units. Adherence to the Hazardous Chemical (Amendment) Rules, 1989, amended in 1994 and 2000, in various aspects from the manufacture, storage to the import of hazardous chemicals is not monitored. They say state and central agencies should regularly take up inspections, call for rectifications and act against erring units. Alas, it is not being done.
It is said that the department of factories lacks adequate manpower to carry out its mandate. Out of sanctioned 22 posts of inspectors, eight are vacant and a few posts of deputy inspector of factories are also lying vacant in some districts. In Visakhapatnam alone, which is a highly sensitive place given the presence of several industrial units and being the hub of the state’s pharma industry, the post of deputy inspector of factories has been vacant since July last year. An inspector from Srikakulam is made the in-charge of the city. And there is only one inspector working on a regular basis under the supervision of a joint chief inspector.
The Visakhapatnam district administration has an age-old ‘off-site emergency plan’ prepared in 2007. It deals with details of hazardous industries, the storage capacity of hazardous chemicals, personnel handling them, their contact numbers, the chance of mishaps and their on /off-site impact and details for rescue and relief operations. The district authorities fail to update it even after LG Polymers’ mishap. The district crisis group meeting to be chaired the District Collector to take up a regular review of industrial safety is also not being held.
Sources maintain that unless all stockholder agencies inspect the units, bring about awareness on safety norms and organise mock drills on emergency situations involving workers and neighbourhood people at regular intervals, industrial safety remains at stake. Speaking to Hell Vizag, Joint chief inspector of factories J Siva Sankar Reddy said, “We are ensuring that all hazardous industrial units comply with safety norms. Those who were served notices got rectifications done, barring a few who took the legal course. We are planning to hire a private agency to update the off-site emergency plan shortly and the district crisis group meet is deferred due to Covid-19.”