Avoidable tragedy

Human negligence is responsible for the loss of three lives at a fire in Indian Oil Corporation’s terminal at Hazira in Gujarat. It appears that two water tankers located inside the IOC plant that could have played an important role in dousing the flames when the fire broke out were empty.

While it is true that it is difficult to put out fires in a petroleum storage facility, the fire could have been controlled had the sprinklers worked. Worse, when fire fighters arrived on the scene, there was no water available to put out the fire. Apparently a large number of personnel, who would have been engaged in rescuing people trapped in the terminal or putting out the fire, were busy trying to procure water.

They had to bring water from other companies in the vicinity to fill the IOC’s water tankers before they could get down to their primary task of fire-fighting and rescuing people. Precious hours were wasted. The death of three employees was not so much because of the fire as it was the outcome of the IOC’s failure to take one of the most basic precautionary steps to deal with a fire mishap.

A little over three years ago, a fire broke out at the IOC’s facility at Jaipur. It raged for 11 days and killed 11 people and injured 150 others. A subsequent probe blamed “non-observance of normal safety procedures” by IOC for the blaze. Investigators found that IOC had not put in place site-specific written operating procedures or leak-stopping devices.

Clearly, IOC authorities have not learnt any lessons from the Jaipur episode. It does not need any great expertise to understand that a fuel storage facility should have robust fire prevention and fire fighting systems in place. That they did not find it necessary to fill even water tankers shows how little they value human life.

The government has ordered a probe into what caused the blaze. Simply suspending a few people lower down in IOC’s hierarchy will not do.

Human lives have been lost and while this might not have been intended, it could have been prevented had the IOC top-brass acted responsibly. Equipment in oil storage facilities must be checked regularly to ensure that leaks and explosions don’t take place. Accountability must be fixed so that such incidents do not recur.

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