Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Human error blamed for IOC inferno

JAIPUR: The M B Lal committee set up by the ministry of petroleum and natural gas to probe the devastating fire that broke out at the Indian Oil Corporation’s Sitapura depot has blamed human error for the October 29 inferno that blazed for over a week and killed at least 12 people and injured many more. ( Watch Video )
The seven-member committee, headed by former Hindustan Petroleum Corporation chairman M B Lal, tabled its report on Tuesday to the ministry.
The report also pointed out the lack of safety procedures and design flaws. “The root cause is an absence of site-specific written operating procedures, absence of leak stopping devices from a remote location and insufficient understanding of hazards, risks and consequences,” Lal said.
The report points to “gross negligence” during the transfer of petrol from the storage tank that subsequently caused the fire and engulfed all the 11 storage tanks at the depot.
The report says that due to “non-observance” of safety procedures a 10 to 12 metre fountain of petrol began emanating during the transfer of fuel from the storage tank. Later, fumes from the fountain spread over a 250-metre radius in the area. This leakage was on for 75 minutes before a spark caused either by the starting of a two-wheeler or an oven in a kitchen in the vicinity resulted in the fire.
Other members in the committee included executive director of Oil Industry Safety Directorate as member secretary, Rajasthan government’s principal secretary for mining and petroleum Govind Sharma and two other experts from the oil industry.
The expert committee also wondered on the role of Oil Industry Safety Directorate (OISD) that is entrusted with the task of conducting safety audits on oil installations and ensuring its compliance.
However, OISD executive director J B Verma, said an audit in 2003 had highlighted the deficiency in the off-loading valve. “Even then the compliance report did not indicate any action on the deficiency pointed out. Thereafter, it was up to IOC’s internal audit. The last audit was done in February 2009, to ensure the installation complied with standard safety procedures,” he said.
The day after the fire broke out at the depot experts of IOC from Mathura, Delhi, Panipat, those from ONGC Hazira, the Army, the local fire tenders besides a whole lot of officials from the police and the administration assembled at the place. But there was little they could do other than wait for the oil to burn itself out.
Almost all educational institutions and industries in the area were shut, and even train and bus routes were changed. The localities were vacated from the area and put up in temporary camps though complaints of allergy poured in constantly as dark clouds engulfed the entire area.

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