Gas Leak in Bhilai Steel Plant

An investigating team of AICCTU, affiliated to Centre of Steel Workers, enquired into the accident which occurred in Pump House 2 of the Water Management Department (WMD) on 12 June 2014. Six people lost their lives in this accident: DGM in charge BK Singh, DGM NK Katariya, Chargeman Samuel, Fire Officer Ramesh Sharma, Senior Operator Yad Ram Sahu, and contractual worker Vikas Verma. About 40 people were injured in the accident. Soon after the incident the team members spoke to the workers of WMD, the injured workers at the hospital, and others and inspected the site of the accident. The team included Brijendra Tiwari, Rajendra Parganiha, Muktanand Sahu, Shyam Lal Sahu, and others.

The investigating team was told that on 12 June at about 6 pm a 3 ft pipe broke between header valve 55 and delivery valve 15. This pipe supplies water to Blast furnaces 1 to 6 as well as the gas cleaning plant. Around 40 workers and officers arrived at the spot for pipe line repair (technically called line isolation). During the process of line isolation, the water in the pipe started gushing out and after 15 minutes the leakage of Blast furnace gas started, causing 6 personnel to die and over 40 to sustain injuries. Of the injured, all except one worker have been discharged from hospital.

This gas is carbon monoxide which is odourless, colourless, and tasteless. There were no indicators or alarm devices to warn of the gas leakage. In addition, all the exhaust fans in the area were out of order and had been removed. This pipe line is 11 meters below ground level. This place is not equipped with a lift or with a work space cabin and there is a high level of sound here. Mud, dust, and dirt are not cleaned properly and regularly. The pipe line itself is old and worn down and often suffers breakages but instead of replacing it with a new one, it is just cosmetically repaired by punching and concreting. The valves are not also in proper operating condition.

On the day after the accident some workers were sent to the site to repair the pipe line without proper safety measures, due to which 3 workers were injured. Only after angry protests by the workers were safety measures then put in place. Repair work is still in progress and the Blast furnaces are not yet in working condition.

The BSP management attempted to hush up the death of contractual worker Vikas Verma, whose family members contacted AICCTU. The Union office bearers immediately reached the hospital at Sector 9. On the matter of employment to the victim’s family member, the BSP management tried to get away by giving a verbal assurance, but the family members and Union leaders insisted that they would not allow the post mortem of the body until a written assurance was given, and shouted slogans against the management. Finally, the BSP management gave a written assurance that one member from the victim’s family would be given permanent employment in the Bhilai Steel Plant.

Union Minister for Steel and Mines Narendra Singh Tomar visited the family members of the victims and expressed his condolences, and announced a compensation of 25 lakhs to the families of the permanent employees and 10 lakhs to the family of the contractual worker.

Demands made by AICCTU

1. A high level enquiry should be conducted into the accident, the findings should be made public, and the guilty should be punished.
2. The water pipe line should be immediately replaced by a new one.
3. A proper gas indicator system and alarm should be immediately installed in that place.
4. Vacant sanctioned posts should be filled immediately and proper repair work should be undertaken.
5. Lifts should be installed at this place as well as in other similar places as required in the Plant.
6. Unskilled workers should not be put to work in high risk areas.
7. Safety rules and labour laws should be strictly implemented.

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