The toxic gas leak at the Atchuthapuram Special Economic Zone (APSEZ) on June 3, 2022, once again shows the pathetic industrial safety culture in and around Visakhapatnam and Anakapalli districts. Friday’s leak resulted in about 200 women employees at the Brandix Apparel plant rushing out in panic after being exposed to noxious fumes.Medical and health facilities at the SEZ and various industrial units are deplorably inadequate.
Human Rights Forum (HRF) has time and again pointed out the precarious occupational safety and working conditions in industrial units and the need to put in place effective and concrete corrective measures.
4 June 2022
The toxic gas leak at the Atchuthapuram Special Economic Zone (APSEZ) on June 3, 2022, once again shows the pathetic industrial safety culture in and around Visakhapatnam and Anakapalli districts. Clearly, authorities concerned have failed to ensure safe workplaces for employees and those residing around industrial establishments. What is of extreme disquiet is that even 24 hours after the incident, there is still no official clarification by authorities concerned about exactly where and how the leakage occurred. Even the identity and nature of the toxic leakage remains unclear. There is a strong suspicion that the truth about Friday’s leakage is being sought to be obfuscated and suppressed.
Medical and health facilities at the SEZ and various industrial units are deplorably inadequate. Friday’s leak resulted in about 200 women employees at the Brandix Apparel plant rushing out in panic after being exposed to noxious fumes. Many of them, including several women who were pregnant, experienced nausea and struggled for breath and had to wait hours before being provided medical treatment. They were treated at several clinics in Atchuthapuram which were clearly not equipped either in terms of requisite equipment or medical personnel to handle such an eventuality of toxic exposure. They were then rushed to hospitals in Anakapalli and Visakhapatnam where the situation was only marginally better. In fact, medical facilities for over 60,000 workers in industrial units in the area are grossly inadequate.
Human Rights Forum (HRF) has time and again pointed out the precarious occupational safety and working conditions in industrial units and the need to put in place effective and concrete corrective measures. Along with concerned citizens and environmental organisations, HRF has repeatedly raised several concerns but they have remained unaddressed. It is a little over two years since lethal styrene vapours leaked out of LG Polymers in the city with horrific and fatal consequences, yet precious little seems to have been done to ensure better safety in industrial establishments. We recall that the High-Power Expert Committee appointed by the State government following the LG Polymers leak had made important recommendations including the need for a comprehensive industrial safety audit of all hazardous industries in and around Vizag. Till date, no such audit appears to have been undertaken.
Functioning of industries clearly poses grave hazards within and outside plants as is borne out by regular accidents. These are the result of criminal negligence by promoters and serious lapses by regulatory and industrial safety bodies like the AP Pollution Control Board and the Factories Inspectorate. These regulatory bodies often try to underplay, minimise and even normalise the criminality. They do not comply with inspection schedules and fail to carry out periodic and surprise inspections so as to detect lapses in safety and non adherence to norms by industries.
Primarily, these bodies lack necessary competence to identify safety issues and enforce and process safety management. Like in the present case, they lack the ability to investigate an accident and identify the source and causes of the leak. Their laxity in enforcement has emboldened the company responsible for the gas leak to the criminal offence of avoiding declaration of leakage and alerting workers and people about it. Compensation is handed out in some cases but very rarely has criminal liability been fixed and cases followed up.
This deterioration must be halted before more lives are endangered and a calamity envelopes this region once again.
M Sarat – HRF Visakhapatnam district president
VS Krishna – HRF AP&TS Coordination Committee member
The feature image is representational. Since the gas leak happened inside a SEZ, no photographs can be accessed so far.