From November 3 to 12, three major accidents associated with hazardous chemicals occurred in three provinces of China. The death toll currently stands at 20 dead and a further 13 were injured.
Insufficient understanding of combustible gas
Inspections revealed that though the accidents occurred in different industry sectors and under different conditions, the explosive media involved (propane gas in the accident in Lankao of Henan Province, purge gas in the accident in Xinle of Hebei Province, and fumes from asphalt in the accident in Pingyin of Shandong Province) were all combustible gas, which were trapped in a confined space and caused violent explosions when exposed to an open flame. However, none of the involved companies attached sufficient attention to these substances and failed to take effective monitoring and emergency measures.
Dereliction of management duty
Dereliction of management and supervisory duty is a deeper reason for these accidents. Besides the supervision of relevant authorities, internal examinations and inspections are even more critical to ensure safe production of hazardous chemicals. The management of some chemicals companies pays little attention to procedures and substances which are prone to accidents, while being obsessed with efficiency and economic benefits. Flouting laws and regulations, they hold token employee training sessions only for appearance’s sake and are thus unable to enhance employees’ understanding of and awareness for production safety.
Circumstances particular to winter
The end of the year occasions a production spike in various industry sectors. As the tightened supply of some basic chemicals leads to a good increase in their price, chemicals companies with often substandard safety capacities are more likely to commit serious violations of laws and regulations. Moreover, weather-related factors in winter may also increase the frequency of accidents.
On November 8, the Work Safety Committee of the State Council released the Emergency Notice on Further Enhancing Production Safety, stressing that chemical companies must implement programs to prevent accidents in winter, strengthen the screening of potential safety hazards, and resolutely eradicate work overloads, so as to guard against fire, crashes, explosions, and poisoning.
Production safety boils down to three issues: regulation, accountability, and management. To tackle these problems and prevent hazardous chemical accidents, all parties concerned need to take actions to address both symptoms and root causes of safety problems. From the perspective of governments, relevant authorities and agencies must strengthen the regulatory mechanism, introduce more stringent procedures to monitor whether relevant rules and regulations are strictly obeyed by chemicals companies, and ensure that the accountability system for production safety is practiced at every level. Meanwhile for companies in which production and operations involve hazardous chemicals, they need to establish a sound accountability mechanism and increase employee training.