16 dead at Vizag Steel: CSE says tragedy inevitable because of the plant’s poor safety record
CSE’s Green Rating Project had warned Vizag Steel to shore up its safety measures
New Delhi, June 14, 2012: The recent tragedy at Visakhapatnam Steel Plant (Vizag Steel), where 16 people died in the worst ever accident in a steel plant in India, was waiting to happen, says Centre for Science and Environment (CSE). In its recently released green rating of the Indian steel sector, CSE had drawn the attention of Vizag Steel to its abysmal safety record. In the cateogory of 'Safety and Environment Management systems', Vizag Steel plant was awarded just single leaf (15-24.9%) and it ranked 'last' among all 13 of the 21 participating plants.
In fact, the Green Rating Project (GRP) survey has revealed that over 144 people died in the period 2007-2010 in 17 of the 21 steel plants which the survey studied. Poor occupational safety management system was found as a clear area of concern. Says Chandra Bhushan, CSE deputy director general and head of its industry and pollution programme, “The latest accident at Vizag Steel is symptomatic of the overall safety and health situation in the Indian steel industry.”
During the three-years period of the CSE-GRP study, it was found that more than 50 people die every year in major steel plants of the country. It also found that the steel industry of India has one of the worst safety performances in the world.
Iron and steel plants involve several complex processes with hazardous working conditions that require skilled understanding of the safety hazards. The existing safety monitoring and coordinating structures such as Directorate General of Factory Advice Service and Labour Institutes (DGFASLI) which comes under the Union ministry of labour, the steel industry association called Joint Committee on Safety, Health and Environment in the Steel Industry (JCSSI) and the labour commissioners in the state governments lack expertise or enforcement capacity to regulate safety measures in steel plants. It was also clearly found that OHSAS 18001 certification does not have any correlation with the safety records of these plants. This is why existing institutional structures have completely failed to reduce accident rates in the sector.
Says Bhushan, "As concluded in the GRP study and given the latest unfortunate incident at Vizag Steel, it is again being recommended by CSE that a specialist regulatory body needs to be put in place to supervise, enforce, train, enhance disclosure and improve the overall safety performance of the sector. Strengthening of the existing laws of the 1948 Factories Act under which steel industry safety is being currently regulated is also called for."
He adds: "The institutional mechanism and laws of the country are severely constrained to manage/supervise safety and health performance of the steel sector."
Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) is a leading environmental research and advocacy organization in India. For more than a decade, we are working in the field of impact assessment and capacity building of regulators, industries, consultants and other stakeholders. Our experience says that our Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) framework has not been effective and failed to meet its objective of sustainable development. We understand that Cumulative Impact Assessment (CIA) is the right option which shall be adopted in environmental clearance process in India.