COMPROMISES WILL BE COSTLY…

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The toxic styrene gas leak at the LG Polymers factory at Visakhapatnam has been a double whammy for us with COVID raging in the background. As I write this, there are 11 confirmed dead and over 5000 ill due to inhalation of the gas. Reports indicate that the emergency is under control and I do sincerely hope that it is the case. What a tragedy!! Who knows how many more fatalities will occur out of the thousands who have been affected? Long-term exposure to styrene has severe known side-effects including the possibility of developing cancer but I fervently hope that none of the victims who are still alive has been subjected to such high levels of sustained exposure. Time will tell.

This brief post is intended to ring an alarm bell. Our country is already battling a serious crisis. Lives and livelihoods have never been endangered with such gravity for a long time. The country’s economy is under severe strain and opening up of the lockdown in a graduated manner is inevitable. It is a tremendous risk, no doubt, since everybody knows that exposure of people as they go about restoring normalcy to their lives will lead to a further spike in COVID cases which may  overwhelm our healthcare capabilities and precipitate a further lockdown in the days ahead. It is this crucial phase where things are likely to go wrong.

While we will know in due course what caused the styrene leak at Vizag, I would like to strike a note of caution among the population in general and industries, businesses and enterprises in particular. We have been under lockdown. Machinery and equipment would have largely remained idle. Maintenance would have suffered. Regular safety checks may not have been conducted. Disuse often results in equipment and perishable parts wearing out and causing breakdowns that could turn into disasters. Now, we are trying to get back to work. Most enterprises would be operating with less than optimal workforce. There is a hurry to make up losses and rev up production and profit-making activities. In this hurry, I fear that safety aspects, essential maintenance and setting to work may be given the go-by. This will be disastrous. I hope this has not been the case at LG Polymers, Vizag. Another case in point is Civil Aviation. We are going to fly fleets which have been grounded for two months or more. Let commercial interests not force short cuts. There will be hell to pay. Several other businesses, enterprises and industries would also need to exercise abundant caution as we press the ‘reboot’ button.

I end with two silent prayers – the first that the souls of our COVID and Vizag gas tragedy victims may rest in peace and the second for good sense to prevail as we get back to business. Let us hurry up very slowly…

07 May 20

 

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