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Fatal Indian steel plant explosion report exonerates VSP management

21 August 2012

The three-member high-level committee which inquired into the blast at the Visakhapatnam Steel Plant (VSP) in the southern Indian state of Andhra Pradesh that killed 19 employees in June has said that site management were not responsible for the blast, according to the Times of India. Based on statements the panel gathered from surviving officials, the committee concluded that the fire might have occurred in the outlet passage of the oxygen system filter.

The independent inquiry into the incident ordered by the Indian Ministry of Steel was chaired by the former chairman of SAIL, SK Jain, alongside Mecon managing director KK Mehrotra and Delhi IIT department of mechanical engineering Professor Anjan Ray.

Possible causes that might have led to the blast in the plant, according to the committee, were inadequate flow of oxygen resulting in friction in the pipes, or particle impingement in the filter area either due to some trapped particles or breakage of the filter element.

The committee recommended a number of precautionary measures, including an awareness programme, along with a thorough study of the durability of pipework. They also questioned the design of the unit and pointed out that a bigger unit with greater buffer space could help in avoiding such incidents in future.

The blast took place at the new oxygen pressure reducing station (PRS) near Steel Melting Shop 2 in the plant on June 13, killing a number of workers and managers who were overseeing the start up of the new unit. In the report, the chairman of the committee said that the presence of a large number of people, including those not associated with the operation of the oxygen PRS system, was chiefly responsible for the death toll. He noted that usually only a shift operator would have been present in the unit. In view of the circumstances that led to the accident, there were no lapses in response to the disaster. 

Trade unions called the report "eyewash". They said there was no serious effort to attribute responsibility for the explosion, and that the Jain committee was covering up for management failures.

Earlier, the Economic 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 explosion was the fourth major accident at VSP over a four month period. 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.

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