January 10, 2010

25 Years after the Bhopal Gas Disaster

The bhopal gas disaster on the night of December 2nd/3rd, 1984 led to a number of changes in legislation regarding the management of chemical process safety.
The recent massive blaze at the petroleum storage facility at Jaipur indicates the need for improvement in managing chemical process safety in India.
A comparison of the changes in legislation made in the USA after the Bhopal Gas Disaster with the changes made in India is given below:
Changes made in USA:
1.After the Bhopal Gas Disaster and other accidents in the 1980’s amendments were made to the Clean Air Act (1991). OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration) was authorized to develop its 29 CFR 1910.119 rule of 1992, Process Safety Management. This system is mandatory in the USA since 1992 for chemical industries, storing or processing highly hazardous chemicals, above a threshold quantity. After the implementation of this rule, there was a major incident at the BP Texas refinery in 2005. A thorough investigation about the reasons for the incident and follow up actions are clearly visible to the public. The investigation reports of the incident are made available to the public on the web.
2.The US Environmental Protection Agency also implemented the Risk Management Program in 1996 to prevent an off –site disaster (An off-site disaster is an event that has repercussions outside the boundary walls of the chemical industry in which the incident took place).
3.The US Chemical Safety Board was set up in January 1998 by an amendment of the Clean Air act. It is authorized to investigate chemical accidents in the USA and publish its investigation reports on its website www.csb.gov. The board cannot impose fines or promulgate regulations. It creates public awareness by publishing its investigation reports on the web.
Changes Made in India:
1.After the Bhopal gas disaster, the Factories Act was amended to assign the responsibility of the “occupier”, who is legally responsible for the safety of the workplace and workers, to the highest level of management in an organization. For a public limited company, one of the directors on the board had to be designated as “occupier”. The Environmental legislation also underwent changes, with the Environment Protection Act introduced in 1986. Under this act, a number of new legislations were framed. The Manufacture, Storage and Import of Hazardous Chemical rules, 1989 required safety audits to be carried out in hazardous chemical factories, storing more than a threshold limit of hazardous chemicals.
2.The Chemical Accidents (Emergency Planning, Preparedness and Response) Rules, 1996 was also introduced. Preparation of on-site Emergency Plan by the Industry and Off-site Plan by the District Collector and the constitution of four-tier Crisis Groups at the Centre, State, District and Local level for management of chemical accidents are mandatory under these Rules.
Recommendations to improve chemical process safety management in India:
1.The enforcement of existing legislation regarding chemical process safety by the Indian authorities must be made effective by training the law enforcers in the latest developments in prevention of chemical accidents, inspection and management system audit techniques.
2.While statutory safety audits continue to be performed in the chemical industries, the public should also be informed about the status of implementation of the recommendations of the safety audit.
3.The investigation of Chemical Process Incidents in India should be carried out by an independent body similar to the Chemical Safety Board of USA and their investigation reports must be made public.

PS: Regarding Sriram's comment below, there is a requirement in Factories rules Sec 41 C for hazardous operations that "the occupier must appoint persons who possess qualifications and experience in handling hazardous substances and are competent to supervise such handling within factory..."

1 comment:

  1. Nice to see your blog, Mr. Karthikeyan.
    Is there is any law in India (yet) requiring compulsory appointment of a chemical engineer in a hazardous chemical plant with the duty to ensure safe operation of the plant?
    Thank you,