Increased industrial activities in the chemical sector in recent years and the risks associated with hazardous chemicals have enhanced vulnerability of the industrial establishments to chemical accidents during the process operations at any stage of the product cycle, material handling, transportation and storage. The Vulnerability is sometimes compounded due to the location of Major Accident Hazard (MAH) industries closer to densely populated areas.
The Bhopal Gas tragedy of 1984, the worst chemical disaster in history, where thousands of people died due to the accidental release of the toxic gas Methyl isocyanate, is still fresh in our memories. Such accidents are significant in terms of injuries, pain, sufferings, loss of lives, damage to property and environment. A small accident occurring at the local level may be a prior warning signal for an impending disaster. Chemical disasters, though low in frequency, have the potential to cause significant immediate or long-term damages and generally occur due to technical failures that can be anticipated. The risk associated with them can thus be predicted and reduced effectively by identification of risk areas, risk assessment and designing pre-operative measures. A critical analysis of the lessons learnt from Bhopal disaster and other major chemical accidents exhibited that they resulted from shortcomings such as laxity towards safety measures, non conformation to techno-legal regimes and a low level of public consultation.
There has been a paradigm shift in the government’s focus from its rescue, relief, and restoration-centric approach to a planning, prevention/mitigation and preparedness approach. It has been realised that effective Chemical Disaster Management (CDM) is possible through the adoption of preventive and mitigation strategies as most chemical disasters are preventable in comparison to natural disasters that are difficult to predict and prevent. This calls for concerted and sustained efforts for more awareness, effective risk reduction strategies and capacity development to minimise the occurrence of such incidents and reduce their impact. Amongst several initiatives taken up by the government in this regard, one was the establishment of the Emergency Response Centres. Although tremendous efforts have been made to minimise chemical accidents and to improve emergency preparedness at all levels, much more still needs to be done. There is a pressing need to properly assess the potential of chemical emergencies and develop tools for emergency planning, preparedness and response to minimise the damage in case of any eventuality.
With this paradigm shift, it was imperative for ERC to reach out and organise a mass awareness campaign not only at Bhopal but for all the Industry personnel at various industrial locations situated in different parts of the State to make the industries aware about the useful information database and capabilities of ERC, and also to inculcate the concept of emergency preparedness to meet the chemical accidents effectively, so that they could be prevented from turning in to a disaster. There is a saying that more you sweat in peace, less you bleed in war. I am happy to note that already six such out-reach program have been conducted by ERC this year, where in We have tried to rope in the subject Experts, Local Administration, First Responders and all concerned at one platform to develop better understanding and co-operation. This shall help ERC not only to showcase it’s capabilities, include more industrial units in it’s activities and raise the general awareness about the importance of preparedness but will also give an opportunity to get the feel of the problems and issues confronted by ERC members.
I also urge all the Industries to be in close contact with the ERC and be benefited with the expertise and technical resources they have with them to help make our industries a safer place to work and ensure that along with business continuity plan, the pollution control and conservation of the environment remain in the focus.
Dr. N.P. Shukla