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Principal Member Technical Committee National Fire Protection Association ,USA. Overseas Expert BLE Govt.of Canada.
The Indian chemicals industry was at US$ 178 billion in 2019 and in all likelihood cross US$ 300billion by 2025 registering a CAGR of 9.3%. The demand for chemicals (domestic consumption and export market) is expected to expand to 9% per annum by 2025. Thus chemical industry contribution to to India’s GDP by 2025 is slated to rise to US$ 300 billion .
The Process Industries in India are undergoing major changes, involving Large expansion of capacities & adoption of modern technologies namely, Artificial Intelligence (AI), Analytics, Deep Learning, Digital Imaging (with SaaS & other platforms) to achieve high performance level and long Asset life.
Along with safe operation of by process industries assume special significance as major incidents /catastrophic accidents in such units will result in major on-site and off-site disasters involving multiple fatalities & loss of properties as seen in Bhopal many decades back (1984) and recently in Visakhapatnam (2021).
In spite of bringing in specific legislations by countries, to prevent such catastrophic events, through various statutes such as CAPPR (Chemical Accident Prevention & Preparedness Rule) and Factories act in India, OSHA (Occupational Safety & Health Administration) & EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) RMP in US, Europe Regulation SEVESO III, Directive 2012/18/EU , COMAH 2015 (Control of Major Accident Hazards)in UK etc., the major accidents still keep on happening, India being no exception.
Prevention and mitigation of such disasters are only possible if the top management of these Process Industries, consider `Process Safety’ very seriously and get personally involved to imbibe a safety culture in all their sites and plants.
The accidents in the Process Industries are naturally in more in numbers in the western sector of India specially Gujarat, Maharashtra where the concentration is very large. But even in my state i.e., West Bengal (where I have settled now) though large process industries are few, major accidents do occur in nos. rather in disproportionately high percentage. In this year (2022) in first half itself there had been major accidents in a public sector refinery and also in a well-known private sector Paint Factory involving multiple fatalities which included even a very senior manager the later case.
The public and private sector oil & gas sectors are doing quite a bit in improving the Process Industry, helped by OISD (Oil Industry Safety Directorate). Also they have dedicated department dealing with Process Safety, led by a very senior manager. Few leading Cos. have gone one step ahead involving “third party training in process safety” by well respected global & indian agencies such as “Dupont Safety Solutions, DNV, Cholamandalm Risk services etc.
However, in the private sector, allied process industries (leaving the core ones as large & Medium Petrochemical, Fine & Heavy chemicals, Fertilisers industries,) is devoid of such improvement. In some, even concept of process safety is lacking.
Major accidents do occur not only in Oil, Gas & Petrochemical, Fertiliser, heavy & fine chemical industries but also in allied Process Industry which handles highly inflammable solvents mostly derived from Crude Oil. The major ones here are paints, solvent extraction, rubber lubricants, dyes, detergents, drugs, pesticide, etc.. The risk of fire & explosion in these industries too are as much as in Oil, Gas , Petrochemical ,Fertiliser Sector.
One such sector experienced a major accident in one of their major sites recently (a well-known paints company of long standing), in which the plant manager himself and no.of workers/staffs perished as reported in a widely circulated all India Newspaper. The newspaper quoted their CEO issuing a statement “Preliminary investigation points to a short circuit in an AC unit”.
Fire reportedly caused by “short circuit” is “MOST COMMON CAUSE” stated by commercial and Industry establishment (whenever they experience Fire) in India, and lamely accepted by Fire services ,authorities alike.
But what is missed in all such cases that “short circuit” is an event caused by one or several reasons, quite a few listed below, which can only be determined by a “proper accident investigation”.
a. Overload (Electrical)
b. Absence of overload protection (Breaker)
c. Improper storage of flammable material w.o following its Safety Data Sheet (allowable max. temp. not followed, lack of ventilation, storing together incompatible material, lack of required type of firefighting facilities etc.)
d. Absence or improper “Hazard Area Classification” as per applicable mandatory code
e. Not providing Electrical Equipment & Fitting as required after a “Hazard Area Classification”
f. No PHA, HAZOP & Risk Assessment.
g. No external/third party safety audit by well known cos.or Individuals in the field.
I hope the senior level management of chemical companies in this state as well as in the country will take note of my comments and do wherever required to improve / bring a Process Safety Culture in in their establishments. This will result in several advantages namely:
– Preventing loss of lives & property
– Ensuring no production loss
– No adverse reaction to public as well as stock market &
– Several other related issues
Wishing all the best and safe operation..
h. Lack of process safety training of Managers ,Supervisors, operators ,in production (operation), mainteance, safety ,fire & security dept.
i. MOC /PMA practice not followed
With utter disappointment, we see major accidents and note with concern the lack of understanding the importance “Process Safety culture” at topmost level of the Cos.
To prevent/mitigate major accidents, the need is a committed CEO who has an understanding and importance of “process safety’ and takes on himself to imbibe a “Process safety Culture” in his/her co at all levels.
To solve /mitigate this problem ICC (Indian Chemical Council –the apex body of chemical Cos.in India) has been doing whatever possible in their area by carrying out specialized training through their Process Safety Centre (PSC) . PSC imparts in-plant / onsite training to their members who request training on various aspects of Process Safety.
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Views expressed above are the author’s own.
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