Lately, we have all been witnesses to horrifying spectacles of victims of explosions involving petroleum products in some fuel stations and domestic places in different parts of the country.
These accidents leave many of us wondering what is happening to regulations on safety standards by those who have the duty of enforcing them.
We all recall the recent fuel explosions at Atomic Junction, La Trade Fair Center, Tulip Inn Hotel all in Greater Accra and Takoradi in the Western Region. According to the regulatory authorities, investigations conducted so far indicated the explosions were as a result of failure to adhere to strict discharge protocols. These explosions usually occurred as a result of significant gas release from a Bulk Road Vehicle (BRV) that had been stationed at the gas refilling plant to discharge product at the station.
With hindsight, one can say most petroleum related accidents occur as a result of lack of adequate awareness in the risk of handling and usage of petroleum products.
According to media reports, this has` resulted in a reported case of at least eight major gas explosions across the country since 2014, leading to almost 30 lives lost.
Also, statistics from the Reconstructive Surgery and Burns Centre of the Korle-Bu Teaching Hospital indicates that burns caused by petroleum products increased from 11% in 2006 to as high as 30% in 2011 and 35% of all burns cases in 2016.
The Role of the Regulator
To avert such incidents, the National Petroleum Authority (NPA) periodically inspects all facilities of petroleum service providers including fuel and gas retail outlets in the country to ensure prescribed standards are maintained. The inspection exercises are usually conducted with robust checklist which have stringent health, safety and environmental management standards to guide operators. The Authority applies punitive sanctions to operators who fail to meet the minimum prescribed standards.
Also, in order to ensure that the public understands the potential risks and dangers inherent in handling and use of petroleum products, the NPA embarks on a number of safety campaign including but not limited to; LPG safety animation shown on various TV stations, sensitization tour to Landing Beach Sites along the coastal areas in Ghana, door-to-door sensitization of households and local food joints (chop bar) operators nationwide on the safe handling of Liquefied Petroleum Gas (LPG).
At such sensitization fora, consumers of petroleum products are educated on the need to take precautionary measures in handling petroleum products;
Responsibility of the Service Provider
There are safety guidelines for all Petroleum Service Providers operating in the country. Even though NPA has the mandate to inspect, it is the responsibility of service provider who has been licensed by NPA to ensure that the facility is run safely. The safety precautions include but not limited to the below;
Smoking and other naked flames must not be allowed throughout the loading/offloading operation. All electrical equipment allowed in the operation zones of the facility except those electrical equipment specially designed for that purpose. Transfer hoses must be visually examined for cracks, wear or any other damage. Couplings and seals should be similarly examined to ensure compatibility. Couplings must be intact throughout the transfer of gas.
On no account should any overloading be allowed. If the BRV/receiving tank is inadvertently overloaded, technical and supervisory assistance must be obtained by the operatives involved to resolve the situation
Responsibility of the Consumer
Households are apathetic towards the use of petroleum products especially liquefied petroleum product (LPG), notwithstanding the dangers involved in the poor handling of such products.
LPG Safety Tips
Domestic accidents normally result from the misuse and mishandling of gas. Take for example when we go to our homes and kitchens, how many times have we not seen people put stones on the head of LPG cylinders that leak? The cost of replacing a faulty regulator on a cylinder, is certainly insignificant compared to the cost to life and property if an accident occurs from this leaking cylinder.
Safety measures like ensuring adequate ventilation to the gas cylinder, lighting the match before turning on the gas, always putting gas cylinder regulators off when not in use, being familiar with the smell of leaking gas, and making sure one does not use cylinders that are more than ten years old, amongst other measures, these measures help to prevent or mitigate fire incidents.
Static electricity-related incidents at retail outlets are very unusual, but the potential for them to happen appears to be the highest during dry harmattan conditions. In rare circumstances, these incidents have resulted in a brief flash fire occurring at the fill point which has the potential to spread if not promptly put out.
Consumers can take steps to minimize these and other potential fuelling hazards by following safe refueling procedures all year round.
When refueling, motorist should turn off their vehicle engines. Put your vehicle in park mode and set the emergency brake. Disable or turn off any auxiliary sources of ignition, mobile telephones or pilot lights.
iii. Premix Fuel Station Safety Tips
Fishermen should also desist from taking naked lamps or candles to points where they collect premix fuel. Outboard motors should not be left running near naked flames or premix fuel storage facilities including canoes and boats. Do not smoke, light matches or lighters while refueling at the pump or when using gasoline anywhere else.
Very often when a fuel tanker is involved in an accident, we see men, women and children with jerry cans and all sorts of other receptacles rushing to the accident scene to collect fuel to re-sell, instead of staying at least five hundred meters away from the accident site.
Please avoid petroleum product accident sites. And motorists who buy fuel collected from accident sites must also refrain from that practice. It can even damage your engine.
To conclude therefore, the tragedies related to the lack of precautions in handling petroleum products ought to teach us the consequences of an inadequate understanding of the risks and that is why we must always strive to abide by its rules of use to forestall unpleasant consequences.