It was Monday morning, 3rd December 1984, I was getting ready to prepare for my master’s semester exam scheduled January 1985, (Environmental Engineering) when 7am, All India Radio, English news announced (No TV that time, not so common) that there is an Industrial gas leak at Bhopal the previous night. I didn’t take the news that seriously! By 1pm, the scale and magnitude of disaster unfolded! Thousands of deaths, life changed forever for many! For me personally, Bhopal disaster, with my Environmental Engineering qualifications as the first batch of guys in India, my willingness to move to Northern Part of India from Coimbatore/Karaikudi, it was a god sent opportunity to grab and climb the career ladder. As saying goes” One man’s poison,is another man’s nectar” applies classic to me. I even now wonder without Bhopal happening, I would have been able to have such a smooth sail in the Industrial career!So, 33 years on as a Corporate EHS Professional ( 1990 I qualified as Safety professional, as Safety and Environment goes as a good blend to problem solving and value add) as well as 5 years now as a EHS freelancer, what do I see across in Indian spectrum from EHS standpoint!
Bhopal, Chernobyl, Schweizerhalle all happening within 24 months,shook the Industry and made them retrospect and strive to work for a better performance. What was common across was a “Weak Safety Culture” In fact, Safety culture term was coined after Chernobyl. ( I never believe Safety first -That is Bullshit, we are all here to make profits, PERIOD)
So since Bhopal,
What has gone well in India from EHS standpoint:-
- Tweaking of legislations in 1987 from storage, handling, Annexures in safety from Factory standpoint.Environmental Protection Act and Rules for various aspects of business, emission standards from water, air, waste standpoint. Public Liability act to disperse compensation post a major incident.
- Occupier as the ultimate control over affairs and the first Bastard to be behind bars, should things go horribly wrong, no passing the buck. Warren Anderson, in my opinion was stupid,to have to come to India.
- Safety management systems in the form of Process Safety management (OSHA 1910.119)
- Process Safety Incidents reporting and learnings from Accidents as easy way to implement corrective actions.
- Improvements in process design, Risk Assessment, What could wrong probe, Consequence Analysis with best fit safety instrumentation and possible automation.
- Training and communication to Employees, contractors, public on critical information that can mean life and death in the community. (Do’s and Don’ts)
- Emergency Drills practice, practice, practice!!
- Emergence of Industrial Hygiene and Occupational Medicine with degree/diploma courses offered to know and tackle workplace better. Antidotes, notes to doctor to treat all chemical incidents well understood and better practiced.
- MSDS —>Material Safety Data more meaningful, action oriented with Sections focused on emergency handling, spill etc.
- Communication specialist as profession, What when how who shall communicate? importantly, what not to commuicate, why no mixed messages????
What has been Fucked up???
- Power to Pollution control boards to enforce law, another matter, in a III class III world country like India that is source of corruption and money spinning with officers caught and send to jail! I am told Telangana guys most corrupt!!
- Indian EHS corporates have become powerless/toothless, a position where they sit as fancy designation with preparing charts and reports to their bosses. Ground level if there are major incidents, shit will hit the fan! Business segments, who contribute to bottom line calls the shots and these guys have no clue on operational aspects,especially since post 2008 economic scenario where consolidation/ downsizing is key.
- The goal post has moved in the 33 years as I see, from saving lives /loss prevention to “DOG and PONY show on Sustainability/CSR! ( I call CSR- Corrupt (Anti)Social (I)responsibility! I am with Trump to a large extent on these useless aspects!! Even as an Environmental Engineer, I see it as a big joke corporates play, rather than saving lives/ giving decent work place! Right from day one, I never believed that CSR /Sustainability crap. I have posted enough!!
- Data submissions for emergency scenarios to authorities/ parent companies / Peers you can poke ten’s of holes. I Wonder data would stand a scrutiny of honest, upright, daring Gen X, millennial Chemical / Process/Environmental Engineer.
- EIA a key component of Process Safety, Chemicals handled is a Joke. Copy Paste! Don’t believe me, Read this!
- One corporate, One global standards which came after Bhopal is slowly eroding away due to cost/business pressure. No longer business put the same focus, they are diluting the norms to let country legal requirements take precedence. In Indian context this is equal to doing “NOTHING”. Who is the Big dad who comes and checks what corporates have done?
Would it be fair to Compare Bhopal as Chemical Hiroshima? I don’t think so? Hiroshima was a planned, systematic retaliation by a nation which was provoked and its leader chose to hit back with iron gloves to Pearl Harbour. It is a game changer even in Indian context! Japs were at our door step and our destiny would have changed from Brits to Japs but not for Hiroshima! So comparison are very unfair to Harry S Truman. Doubts still exist even today, 33 years on, as to whether Bhopal was an internal sabotage?
Can Bhopal ever repeat? Anywhere in the World? Don’t think so if lessons are learnt and implemented! As they say”FOOL ME ONCE, SHAME ON YOU; FOOL ME TWICE, SHAME ON ME”