More heads could roll in Indian Oil Corporation as the inter-disciplinary inquiry committee probing the Hazira fire has established that systemic lapses in the past by middle and senior management officials led to the death of five workers in a petrol tank explosion there last month.
“Primary responsibility lies with the concerned officers at IOC Hazira. Apart from this, the committee feels that deficiencies that have crept into the system should have been corrected by personnel from among IOC’s higher officials at the Gujarat state office as well as the Marketing Headquarters (in Mumbai),” says the report, submitted to the Petroleum Ministry last week.
The “root cause” of the incident, according to the report, was the use of old, corroded plates to repair the floating roof of tank No. 4.
On December 31, 2012, within three months of re-commissioning of the tank, a leak in the roof pontoon was detected. This turned into petrol vapours that got ignited, leading to the explosion on January 5.
“Seepage in pontoons emanated hydrocarbon vapours, which mixed with air and created hydrocarbon mixture in the pontoons. This mixture getting some source of ignition from acts of workers attempting to repair the seepage caused the explosion and fire,” the probe team headed by Oil Industry Safety Directorate (OISD) chief Hirak Dutta has concluded.
It has also ruled out the use of mobile phone by a worker as having caused the fire. The only call received by one of the workers ended at 12:36:21 hours while the vibration of the explosion captured by the CCTV at the accident site puts the disaster time at 12:38:08 hours.
The most likely cause of the explosion appears to have been a spark or the falling of a metal object on a metal plate during checking of the seepage, it has said.
The probe also shows that the procedure for repair was not followed by IOC officials, as instructions are to carry out such a task only after emptying a tank. Tank No. 4 contained 5,027 kilolitres of petrol at the time of the fire. “Allowing any repair work on the tank filled with product could be either due to lack of job knowledge or (due to) ignoring of hazards knowing its consequences,” says the report.
Senior management has been hauled up for not adhering to the OISD recommendations and for the lack of preparedness in firefighting as the systems in place had ineffective fire water coverage.
Moreover, workers were allowed in the battery area without work permits or gate passes and without being checked for possessing any hazardous tools or equipment, including mobile phones which are prohibited under OISD norms.