An Industrial Safety Framework for Dangerous Chemicals Needs to be Established

Desk Report: On June 4, 2022, mishandled hydrogen peroxide, a hazardous chemical, caused explosions at BM Container Depot (BMCD), Chittagong, which led to 51 deaths, over 200 injuries, and the loss of around US$110 million in assets. The BMCD was operating without proper authorisation and certification for handling hazardous chemicals. The depot owners were responsible for several errors, including a lack of approval for storing chemicals from the DoE and FSCD, an unsuitable fire safety facility, and a failure to organize firefighting periodically.

Chemical-related accidents occurred intermittently in the 1980s, 1990s, and 2000s. However, from 2014 onward the number of such accidents has significantly increased. Bangladesh is becoming more industrialised now and as the volume of international trade is increasing every year, dealing with a larger number of chemical and hazardous goods will increase too. Therefore safety-related concerns about dangerous chemicals need to be focused.

Therefore, proper precautions must be taken so that such incidents can be reduced in the future. Safety-related concerns of hazardous chemicals should be focused from an industrial safety framework point of view, considering all the important segments of the value chain-production, transportation, storage, and shipment. These should be composed of compliance with registration, licensing, certification, standardisation, following a common set of protocols, compliance guidelines, and standard operating procedures for management and operations considering occupational safety and health.

These observations emerged at a media briefing titled “Industrial Safety Concerning Chemical and Hazardous Products Supply Chain: What lessons We Learned from Chittagong ICD Blast?” which was jointly organized by the Centre for Policy Dialogue (CPD) and Christian Aid on Wednesday, 20 July 2022. Dr Fahmida KhatunExecutive Director of CPD, gave her welcome remarks and Dr Khondaker Golam Moazzem, Research Director of CPD, shared his research on this topic.

While speaking at the media briefing, Dr Fahmida Khatun, Executive Director, CPD, noted that Bangladesh faced safety issues in the industrial sector before when incidents like Rana Plaza tragedy happened. But apart from the RMG sector, other industries, like the chemical industry, are also facing a crisis in industrial safety. For developmental purposes, the industrialization of this country is significant. To ensure progression in industrialization and trade, the quality of the citizens’ lives and safety are equally important. For this reason, the value chain of these industries should be scrutinized and a comprehensive framework should be created.

In his keynote presentation, Dr Khondaker Golam Moazzem underscored the significance of a well-integrated framework of Industrial Chemicals. At present, Bangladesh is importing about 15 hazardous chemicals in different amounts. Major imported hazardous chemicals include urea, acetic anhydride, aluminum powder, acetone, and potassium perchlorate and most of their import is increasing. Due to the increase in the annual volume of imports, safety measures related to these are crucial at this stage. Bangladesh is mainly exporting hydrogen peroxide and its export is increasing too. Safety measures of CPA need special attention because the majority of hazardous chemicals that are imported or exported are handled at the port, and it takes 24-72 hours to release them to their destination. To ensure safety, ICDs need to take certificates, licenses, registration, and no-objection documents from different public and private authorities. Handling hazardous chemicals requires special permission from different authorities and they need to coordinate effectively.

Along with these, the Supply Chain of hazardous chemicals needs to be analysed and improved to ensure safety. The supply chain of hazardous materials is guided by different laws, acts, rules, international guidelines and compliances which are related with production, transportation, storage and shipment. All the necessary rules, laws and regulations for each stage of the value chain, production, transportation, storage and shipment, already exist, but these still have not been integrated into a framework. Absence of a well-coordinated framework is causing mishandling of these dangerous chemicals, and this has resulted in lives being lost and assets being wasted. To ensure that these situations are not repeated, importance must be given to building a comprehensive framework for the supply chain of hazardous chemicals and products.

Ms Nuzhat Jabin, Programme Manager – Economic Justice, Christian Aid Bangladesh, expressed her concern about the significance of a coordinated framework. She also mentioned the monitoring and inspection gaps in the value chain of hazardous chemicals. Therefore, this needs to be strengthened, and someone should be responsible for the final oversight. Also, it is imperative to find the people who are accountable for such accidents.

A comprehensive industrial safety framework for dangerous chemicals needs to be established, which should cover all the stages in the value chain. Necessary amendment of rules of handling hazardous chemicals, the need for monitoring and oversight institutions to revise their inspection protocols including necessary provisions, assurance of safety and security at every stage, improving coordination between these authorities, and the operation of the coordination committee needs to be regular and effective. The failure to maintain compliances needs to be handled immediately and officials dealing with the responsibilities should be made accountable at every stage. It is crucial to design a detailed operational protocol for the supply chain and maintain it. Along with this, a central authority needs to monitor the effective functioning of the laws, rules, protocol, and other related compliances so that everything functions smoothly.