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Wednesday, April 28, 2010

diesel tank of truck explodes killing worker - do you call this an accident ???

Death awaited a casual worker whilst he was on his usual routine repair ritual in a lorry. A small column news in some local newspaper and would fade away unnoticed, unobserved and not discussed.

Industrialisation and urbanisations ensures that there are hundreds of trucks plying into the city loaded with various material and obviously many of them are rickety old ones requiring many repairs. Mostly these are carried out on a temporary way at road side repair garages who might have expertise but certainly not the tools needed. The lack of safety features and more importantly the inability to recognise potential hazards abets more accidents, which are easily avoidable. Sad state of affairs indeed when you know that there are hundreds of labourers involved in this, eking out measly amounts after hard toil.

The hazard is very high in case of tankers (lorries which transport liquid cargo) In western countries for liquefied loads, the vehicle would be sophisticatedly maintained. After each carriage, they would be put to proper cleaning, using steam or chemical going by what was carried. It would be in prime fit for the next carriage but not in places where they operate on small margins and are prepared to carry anything for a small margin. The consignors who send cargo normally do not care much to check on the vehicle. You could see rickety trucks leaking out precious water, some places milk, oil and even chemicals.

Repairs – mending damaged parts is mostly manual exercise. Tinkering sheds prop up in nuke and corners where by expertise gained over the years, mechanics apply their learnt wisdom to unseen and issues not experienced by them earlier. It is the safety which runs away and the conditions are appalling indeed.

When there are gaps in joints or body parts, welding is the common medicine. Welding primarily is a fabrication or process that joins materials / metals by causing coalescence. This is done by melting workpieces and adding a filler material to form a pool of molten material, which when cooled becomes a strong joint. Soldering is another technique which involves melting a lower melting point material between the pieces. This is done by using gas flame which is noxious, not to be seen with naked eye and can cause great damage when spilt. Electrodes are also used and this consumable material is molten by current or gas – thus there is lurking naked fire.

The shops would not have any safety mechanism and these technicians do not have any exposure to safety measures to be followed in the event of some accident ! (Do you still call them accident when it is waiting to happen and almost invited to…)

In a gruesome incident, a labour cutting the diesel tank of a mangled lorry with gas-cutting equipment suffered severe burns and died later when the tank exploded at a shop in Border Thottam off the arterial Anna Salai in the Tamilnadu’s capital city of Chennai on 27/4/10. 25 year old worker hailing from Bihar was thrown a few metres away in the impact of the blast that occurred around 12.15pm. Four others were injured.

The police initially registered a case under Sections 285 (negligent conduct with respect to fire or combustible matter), 337 (causing hurt by act endangering life or personal safety of others) and 338 (causing grievous hurt by act endangering life or personal safety of others) of the IPC. Later, after the worker died of burns at the Kilpauk Medical College Hospital (KMCH) they registered a case under IPC Section 304 (a) (causing death by negligence) and arrested the gas-cutting shopowners, holding them responsible for the death, allegedly failing to provide adequate safety.

It is reported that the worker was taking apart he lorry that had been brought from nearby State, as he could not remove the diesel tank, tried cutting it into two. The diesel traces inside ignited and the tank exploded causing the accident. He was rushed to nearby Govt. Royapettah hospital where he succumbed to the injuries.

I have witnessed manual welding / gas cutting inside the tanker portion of the truck, little realising the presence of residual gases which are a great hazard. Men would get into the narrow holes, cling on in unreconcilable positions. Many a times they would ignore the falling fire balls of small and large hue and other hazards. There are stories of explosion once in a while, in which the tanker portion would get tossed in air.

Quite unfortunate this unorganised sector is never insured and the worker would never have enough for the treatment, leave alone thinking of compensation benefits.

Obviously there would be regulations and most of them are flouted at will. Safety is the condition of being protected against physical, occupational, chemical and other accidents and this can be done only when the hazard is recognised. The key to prevention is to understand and identify the hazard i.e., any existing or potential situation that by itself or through interaction could result in a potential accident.

Human lives are invaluable irrespective of whether it was that of a labour or somebody from a rural place ! With some thinking such accidents are indeed avoidable.

With concern
S Sampathkumar.

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