Chemical safety ensures economic growth

Bangladesh cannot move to the next stage of industrialization without focusing on its industrial safety records in different domains.

Bangladesh’s economy is now a major developing market economy, 2nd largest in South Asia. The market of Bangladesh has been transitioning from a frontier to an emerging market. According to Bangladesh Bank data, Bangladesh’s GDP growth was 6.03% in FY23, backed by heavy industrialization. So, it can be said that industrialization stimulates economic growth. 

There is a wide range use of chemicals in different industries. The quantity and variety of chemical usage continue to increase rapidly with the remarkable industrial growth we are witnessing, especially in sectors like petrochemicals, fertilizer, cement, ceramics, insulator and sanitary, paper, glass, power generation, food and beverage, RMG, toiletries and many more. For these industries, a bulk amount of chemicals must be manufactured or imported and stored inside depots daily. This is a complicated and highly hazardous process with high-risk activities in each stage.

Chemical safety
There is a wide range use of chemicals in different industries.

Each chemical has different properties, for example, material properties like high reactivity (metal hydrides, sodium, etc.), oxidizing characteristics (hydrogen peroxide, halogen gases, etc.), flammability (gasoline, alcohols, etc.), toxicity (lead, mercury, etc.), demand-specific safety measures for all stages from production to storage. These measures require following Material Safety Data Sheet (MSDS) guidelines from global bodies like the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), European Chemical Agency (ECHA), Society for Chemical Hazzard Communication (SCHC), etc. Bangladesh is still in the first phase of industrialization, and implementing safeguards and safe practices without rigorous monitoring from the associated stakeholders would be difficult.

Chemical-related incidents are mainly two types: spill and fire. Let’s discuss two recent incidents in Bangladesh, their consequences, and how they could be prevented:

Incident brief (Spill)

On December 9, 2014, an oil tanker collided with a local cargo ship, causing a spill of approximately 358,000 liters of heavy fuel oil into the Shela River inside the Sundarbans.  

The UN and Bangladesh government’s joint team of 25 experts evaluated and assessed the whole situation. Biodiversity and the local community became impacted severely (livelihoods, food security, etc.), causing a significant imbalance in the ecosystem of Sundarbans.

How the incident could have been prevented

The safety measures for carrying hydrocarbons were not rightly placed and installed in the oil tanker. A pre-inspection before using the oil tanker would have helped to identify the loopholes and help to take necessary measures. No such practices were in place, nor were any established emergency protocols.  

A fire incident in the BM container depot at Chittagong.

Incident brief (Spill and fire)

On June 4, 2022, a chemical explosion led to a fire incident in the BM container depot at Chittagong. At least 49 people were killed, and 300 were seriously injured, including considerable property damage. Several Bangladesh Fire Service Department emergency responders were also among the casualties.

How the incident could have been prevented

The BM Depot incident simply showcases how a casual approach can lead to catastrophic incidents in such cases. The chemical containers needed the proper Materials Specification Diamond and MSDS. Hydrogen peroxide was not stored within the secured and segregated perimeter. No secondary containment facility was in place. The breathing or venting ports used to store chemicals, which are oxidizing and critical to preventing an explosion, were not assessed and properly used per global practices. There was no primary emergency response team at the site to contain the explosion’s impact before the fire service team could reach the site. All these deviations are gross-level chemical safety measures violations.

Both incidents mentioned above are classic examples of a lack of knowledge of chemical hazards, negligence in monitoring from stakeholders, and not implementing safeguards with a 360 view. A better matrix performance regarding safety records could be achieved by thoroughly assessing established guidelines in line with OSHA, ECHA, SCHC, etc., ensuring monitoring and implementation, and continuously validating them. 

In a world where industrial compliance and safety protocols are getting more stringent daily, Bangladesh cannot move to the next stage of industrialization without focusing on its industrial safety records in different domains. In the last decade, there have been visible efforts from the government, private sector, and regulatory bodies to improve its industrial safety performance. Yet, special attention is required to have a better result in the safer management of industrial chemicals.

Tajeq Ahmed is a Health, Safety & Environment (HSE) Engineer. You can contact him for further discussion here: tajeqz@gmail.com

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