My Take On The Recent Gas Explosion At Madina /Atomic Junction And some Recommendations.
I would like to precede this write-up with a question – “who actually enforces the Health and Safety Regulations/Laws in Ghana?” Yes, I ask this question because, Ghana appears as an expert in knee-jerk reactions to these numerous mournful national disasters, we have failed drastically to carry out proper and meaningful investigations into the incidents, in order to establish the probable causes and help us plot stringent regulations and measures, to prevent the same or similar incidence from happening again in the future, rather, the leadership conveniently goes to sleep as soon as the somber moments settle down.
This write-up aims potentially to embolden the leadership of Ghana to take more systematic, sustainable and less knee-jerk decisions necessary to curb these unfortunate disastrous occurrences, which are taking innocent lives, and they should demonstrate the alacrity to punish people for their gross negligence and deliberate breaching of the regulations on health and safety.
Yesterday, the Minister of Energy, Boakye Agyarko, disclosed that the government has given the National Petroleum Authority (NPA) the necessary clearance to hire 200 auditors to make sure that safety standards are complied with at all gas stations across the country. The National Petroleum Authority (NPA) on the other hand also indicated its resolve to tighten the processes of acquiring licenses by gas distributing companies to reduce accidents at fuel depots.
In June 2015 when the petrol inferno killed over 150 people in Accra, we were told that Ex-president Mahama chaired a national crisis and emergency meeting at the Flagstaff House where the President described the incident as “catastrophic” and “almost unprecedented” and vowed to take tough measures. We also saw the Minister of Environment, Science, Technology, Hon. Mahama Ayariga also gallivanting from one filling station to another in Accra, posing to the media cameramen and pretending to be taking drastic action on the issue. What actually happened afterwards? The Hon. Minister openly admitted that the ‘dereliction of duty’ by relevant institutions like the NPA was largely to account for the operation of unlicensed and unsafe filling stations in our cities for years, sounding as if they have just been voted into the position of responsibility.
The legitimate question again is, as a country, how long are we going to live by these predictable unthinking emotional reactions by the authorities, instead of instituting an established independent authority to enforce these laws and measures?
Ghanaians have heard these pledges upon pledges from the leaders to implement pragmatic measures to end the disasters such as the profuse Fire Outbreaks, the Perennial Flooding, the Fatal Road Accidents, the Gas Explosions, Environmental Decadence, etc. We can only have confidence that, the Akufo-Addo Presidency, looking at the recent and the past incidents of national disasters, costing us valuable properties and precious lives, should avoid the usual knee-jerk reflexes that do us no good and yields no discernible solutions, and rather seize the opportunity to implement logical stringent regulations, while involving technical experts in the field of Health and Safety.
As I suggested before in my previous articles when commenting on the rampant Fire outbreaks in Ghana, I still propose that, it’s about time Ghana looks to establish a National Health and Safety Authority (NHSA) as a regulator on national Health and Safety, to have powers and authority to carry out targeted inspections and investigations, apply sanctions to shutdown premises and sites deemed as posing danger to the members of the general public, and be able to initiate legal prosecutions against organisations and companies that blatantly breach national health and safety laws, whiles focusing on persistent enforcement action to prevent public or workplace death, injury or ill-health.
The NHSA, if established, can achieve this by working with the duty holders to help them understand the repercussions of the risks they create, and how to manage them, just like what we have in the UK. The expected general believe is that, everyone has the right to come home safe and well from their jobs and businesses. The NHSA after any enforcement action, would have the right to follow up to check that any necessary changes instructed have been made, publish data on notices served and prosecutions taken.
The fundamental issue has been our inability as a nation to institute and enforce good practice on health and safety. We cannot continue to lose properties, precious friends and loved ones, and keep creating stressing environment for ourselves, we need proper Regulations in place.
From where I sit, I think the June 2016 Occupational Health and Safety’ draft bill presented to the Parliament by the Ministry of Employment and Labour Regulations for passage into law, is not comprehensive enough.
Though the Occupational Health and Safety (OHS) drafted bill, is said to have been developed to protect the livelihoods of the victims of occupational accident, injuries and fatalities at workplace, and their dependents, the drafted bill flagrantly fails to directly protect members of the general public who may be put at risk by virtue of their work activity, just like what happened at the Atomic Junction gas explosion. Ghana needs a full comprehensive Health and Safety laws to be enforced by an independent National Health and Safety Authority with powers to prosecute and sanction. In UK, the only law that finds one guilty before appearing at a law court to defend yourself is a gross breech of H&S law and this must be adopted in Ghana.
Our laws on dangerous substances used or present at work that could, if not properly controlled, cause harm to people as a result of a fire or explosion or corrosion of metal should be made tough and enforced.
Petrol and Gas filling stations store and sell a highly flammable liquid and are particularly hazardous workplaces which require proper checks and rigorous assessment and must be licensed by Local Authorities and NPA and must institute a continous health and safety checks on their apparatus used to ensure the national H&S standards are maintained. Therefore, it is highly unacceptable to hear the NPA say that, they’re now going to enforce the petrol station licensing laws. Why haven’t they done so since?
Has the NPA, as part of their legal responsibility the power to check and ensure that these rampant approved gas cylinder refilling stations are fitted with modern sophisticated Gas Control Interlocking Leak Detection Systems so that the gas
supplied pressure is transmitted via a gas solenoid valve, with the ability to shut off the gas flow valve automatically when push comes to shove, detecting a potential leak or detecting vast change in differential pressure, to meet current gas safety standards?
The interlock controller system ‘proves’ the integrity of the downstream gas supply by introducing a small amount of gas and then monitoring the pressure to ‘prove’ the system is leak tight. When the gas interlock control panel determines all is well, the main supply is switched on. Should the pressure fall then the system will alert to check for leaks (open gas taps etc). This uses a pressure transducer to directly measure the system gas pressure and does not use more common pressure switches.
Today, gas filling stations are designed to be fitted with various kinds of protection systems including Water Mist Fire Protection Systems and FM200 Waterless Fire Suppression system for fire protection where sprinkler systems cannot be readily installed.
I would recommend that, Gas Filling stations should be very limited in every region and must be located away from residential areas. The current gas filling stations located in residential areas should be closed down or be converted into Cylinders receiving and collection points for customers. After collection of the empty cylinders at the centre, the owners are given receipts and expected time to return for the filled cylinder. The only thing the public should see is the Van/Lorries carrying the empty and filled cylinders, not personally going to filling centres.
We need to find ways to drastically limit the public involvement in gas handling near/or at the filling stations.
Peter Antwi Peter.