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Survey exposed false safety claims


Bhopal gas tragedy-III

It was not the auditors from the US alone, who, alarmed by the inadequate safety measures at Union Carbide, sounded a warning on the issue. The internal safety audit reports of the local auditors contain similar observations as well.

On the December 7, 1981, an internal audit was conducted by a team which consisted of Mr. Warren Woomer, Mr. B.S. Rajpurohit, and Mr.  N.T. Parekh and Mr. K.D.Ballal. The report clearly expressed serious concern about the ‘emission from the plant’ and ‘heavy turnover of trained personal’ in the MIC plant. This ultimately left very few trained personal in the plant.

Just four months before the disaster, another internal ‘operational safety survey’ was carried out in the Sevin unit. The report tore apart the false safety claims of Union Carbide.

Another internal safety survey, the last in the series of safety surveys, was conducted on September 18, 1984. Though the survey was carried out in the Sevin unit, still it exposed the tendency of gross negligence towards desired safety measures by the authorities concerned, who were also responsible for safety measures at the MIC plant?

The report specifically pointed an accusing finger at those responsible for maintaining the safety at the plant. The introduction to the report reads: “Concerns on procedures and implementation of departmental safety programmers have raised serious doubts on the effectiveness of our safety programmes. While the department as a whole needs to inculcate safety consciousness, particularly disturbing is the breakdown of communications on operating safety at supervisory level.

About the claims of the Carbide’s technical capabilities, the team, consisting of Mr. S.K. Bhattacharya, Mr. A.K. Chakravarti, Mr. B.J. Mansukhani, Mr. U. Nanda and Mr. A.K. Subramaniam further stated that “deficiencies related to facilities are typical examples of not following good engineering practice in the unit. These could either have crept in at the design stage or changes made subsequently”.

The team’s interviews with the workers at the plant come out with startling answers. Some of these were (I) if I try to emphasise safety, then production will suffer or procedures will hinder production. (II) Plant safety procedures can be deviated from, if violations are carried out while I am present at the site. (III) I know that I am not doing the right thing. However, this is the practice and my superiors are fully aware of what I am doing. Therefore I am not doing anything wrong. God is with me.

The 40 page report went on to point out the glaring safety errors in operations, facilities and procedures. The management stung by the strongly worded report, desperately wanted the auditors to soften and dilute their observations.

The points of specific concern ultimately relate to MIC and toxic release. Excerpts from the report:

“The vent gas scrubber accumulator hold-up of dilute caustic lye is inadequate for scrubbing the MIC charge-pot safety valve discharges. There should be a foolproof system of caustic lye make up and solids purge, in the event of this safety valve popping, in the order to prevent MIC release into the atmosphere.

“The MIC charge pot has a half-inch, lever-operated ball valves at the gauge glass dram. Values at this point are normally not permitted on MIC tanks. These valves seems to have been converted to sampling point by attaching an open-ended tubing, which is not considered strong enough and is a tripping hazard.

union Carbide plant

“The Standard operation procedure’s emergency procedure should include the case of nitrogen failure while charging to the reactors is on. The emergency procedures do not list out any action to be taken in the event of any process upsets other than toxic gas release or utility failure. There may be cases involving runaway reaction, etc which need to be dealt with

Communication between production and maintenance supervisors is not taking place adequately during muster card preparation and work allocation. Without adequate communication and mutual understanding, chances of mishap increases.

“Sevin supervisors are not aware that they substitute MIC supervisors for PA announcements in an emergency.

There is no procedure available for handling a vapour cloud release.

The lye bath near the MIC room on the first level is inoperative. It has been so far a long time in spite of its being pointed out on weekly safety check lists.

Departmental safety meetings are held at 50 percent of stated frequency. Four meetings are held instead of the required eight.

While the report exposed the inadequate safety measures and the deficiencies there in. Mr. J. Mukund, the works manager of the plant, went on to claim immediately after the accident that “our safety measures are the best in the country.”

While this game was going on at Carbide, the thousands living across the road were unaware that their consent. The awareness came, but much too late. The volcano had already erupted on the black Sunday night.

The evidence is clear beyond doubt and thousands of eyes are now focused on the guardians of law to bring them justice.

(Third and final part of the series published in The Indian Express, November 24,1985)

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