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Tata blast finger at poor upkeep

The blast at Tata Steel last month was more manmade than an accident of fate, a probe commissioned by the state labour department has found.

The four-member panel, which submitted its report on Thursday, has blamed lack of equipment maintenance and flawed positioning of warning systems for the November 14 incident that inflicted fatal wounds on an employee and injured 10 others.

Copies of the 17-page report were dispatched to labour minister Dadai Dubey, principal secretary (labour) Vishnu Kumar and labour commissioner Pooja Singhal in Ranchi through a special messenger around 6pm.

Copies were also forwarded to Tata Steel managing director T.V. Narendran and the company’s vice-president (shared services) Suresh Kumar.

The committee, constituted by Singhal who inspected the blast site at LD-II gas-holder on November 15, comprised chief factory inspector Awadesh Kumar Singh, deputy chief factory inspector (Jamshedpur) A.K. Mishra, factory inspector (Ranchi) Manish Kumar and factory inspector (Seraikela-Kharsawan) Bharat Bhusan Prasad.

Speaking on the report, Mishra said: “We have found that lack of maintenance of equipment and improper positioning of warning systems led to injuries in and casualty after the blast. Had the equipment and warning systems functioned properly, the blast could have been averted.”

According to the probe team, a three-way valve, the butterfly valve and an emergency switch in the control room were out of order at the time of the accident.

“A signal about excess gas in LD-II came to the notice of the control room fireman and operator around 2.46pm, while the explosion took place at 3.30pm. There was enough time to warn the workers and effect evacuation. But, there was no siren or hooter nearby. The nearest was at a great distance as a result of which no one could hear the siren,” the deputy chief factory inspector pointed out.

Incidentally, in its initial probe report submitted last month, the committee had said that air leak led to formation of an explosive mixture in the unit’s gas holder that came apart under the impact and landed onto supply pipelines about 50 metres away. One of the pipes developed a leak, triggering a spark that ignited the inflammable gases.

In all, 11 people including six contract labourers were injured in the November 14 incident. Five days later, B.N. Sikdar, a technician with the equipment maintenance wing of the steel major, succumbed to his injuries at Medanta Medicity in Gurgaon during course of treatment.

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