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Explosion kills 16 at Indian steel plant

14 June 2012

An explosion on the night of June 13 at the Viskhapatnam Steel Plant (VSP) in the southern Indian state of Andhra Pradesh killed 16 workers and injured a further 20, according to the Times of India. The incident, the worst-ever in the history of the accident-prone plant, was the result of a massive blast at the recently-commissioned oxygen plant in the steel melting shop (SMS) III unit.

Relatives identify the dead after the explosion and fire
Relatives identify the dead after the explosion and fire

The explosion occurred during a trial run of the oxygen plant and was followed by a huge fire. Most of those killed were contract workers, but the critically injured include VSP General Manager (Projects) D Kalsi, Assistant General Managers LAS Rao, Ranjan Bhattacharya and MBRS Sarma, Senior Manager K Srinivasa Rao and three foremen.

Some 31 staff were observing start-up operations when the blast occurred. Witnesses said the explosion was so powerful that cars parked outside the unit were flung into the air. The injured suffered up to 90% burns, and the Times quoted sources saying that the death toll is likely to go up. 

The Economic Times quoted an official who said the plant’s Central Industrial Security Force (CISF), which guards the installation, was asked by Kalsi to be on hand during the start up operation in case of an emergency. They were able to rush the injured to hospital without delay.

In the steel making process used at VSP (also known as Vizag Steel), the hot metal is released from the blast furnace and then sent to the mixer in the SMS wing to convert the hot metal into blooms. Each SMS wing has an oxygen house or plant and sources speculated that the explosion was due to a build up of pressure in an oxygen pipeline.

The Times quoted a union leader as saying that there had been no safety or quality supervision in the construction of the new SMS wing, which was built by a German company. Trade union leaders also allege that maintenance works across the plant have been neglected for well over a year. 

This is the fourth major accident at VSP in the last four months. On May 1, two contract labourers were burnt alive and another two sustained serious burns following an explosion in the newly-commissioned blast furnace III.

The 41-year-old Rashtriya Ispat Nigam Limited (RINL) plant, located 600km (370 miles) from the state capital, Hyderabad, is one of India's biggest steel producers. The plant has been expanding over the past four years, with the addition of new units that were expected to nearly double its current capacity of 3.5 million tons.

State authorities say an inquiry into the causes of the blast will start immediately. 

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