Hazardous Material Storage Installations : Addressing concerns on safety and building public confidence

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Much public concern is raised on hazardous material bulk storages at vulnerable locations that cater the requirements of basic industries. This concern has grown into serious proportions after the ‘Bhopal’ incident. The Bhopal Gas Tragedy, history’s worst chemical accident, occurred in the night on 2nd Dec, 1984 at the Union Carbide Pesticides Plant in Bhopal, India. Around 27 MT of deadly methyl isocyanate leaked from the pesticide plant and mixed with air, and 5.25 Lakh persons were exposed to the gas. Over 2000 died during the week preceded and approximately one lakh persons suffered permanent injuries. Even today, the site of the accident remains contaminated and the soil and water around polluted.

Over these years considerable improvements have taken place in almost all aspects relating to the design, construction, operation, maintenance and troubleshooting, assessment and mitigation of risk from such installations. Relying on concepts of inherent safety and with the help of modern instrumentation and renewed operating philosophy such units are operated today with a high degree of safety and reliability. Competent Emergency Management and Response Plans are also in place to tackle emergency situations that are likely to crop up even with the remotest probability. This paper attempts to trace the course of developments in increasing process safety to reasonably address public concerns on the risk to the neighboring communities emanating from hazardous material storage units.

Industrial accidents remain a major concern before the Governments consequent to the loss of lives, damage to property and environment that is inflicted on the society besides upsets in tranquil and a heavy economic strain. Along with the growth of the processing industry, the problem of accidents caused in the industry poses a big question with its regional and global implications and efforts are also underway to minimize the damages and ensure all safer working environments around industrial installations. Known experiences of accidents caused in the industry over and again caution us that the price of process safety is increasingly becoming a concern on the profitability of the unit, morale of its employees and the public image of the institution. Still, the growth and development of the processing industry is not deterred by occasional mishaps. At the same time these lessons from past industrial accidents urge industry operators to continue efforts to better their safety standards and enhance pubic perception of the industry. Incidents like Flixborough, Sevaso, Bhopal, Chernobyl, North Sea and more recently Toulouse and Texas have taught us where do we stand with regard to achieving an accident free operating environment in the chemical processing industry, which direction we are to go, and what commitment is needed for future. Everywhere and especially in the matter of process safety, Murphy’s Law holds good and it also provide the impetus for continuous research and improvement to unearth , identify and overcome the hidden and the unknown through a process of elimination.

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