•Safety measures on the sale and use of gas must be enforced
RECENT liquefied petroleum gas explosions in Lagos and elsewhere in Nigeria have shown the urgent need for the authorities to ensure that preventive and safety measures are properly enforced.
In Ikosi Isheri, a leak was discovered at a gas station. Efforts had been made to clear the premises of people and the Lagos State Fire Service was in the process of dealing with the issue when the sparks from the exhaust of a nearby vehicle triggered the explosion. Two people were killed, while eight were injured. In Ajara Vetho, Badagry, a retail gas shop suddenly exploded while a sale was going on. Three people were killed, and three were injured.
The explosions reveal a troubling combination of poor safety procedures, below-par response measures and public ignorance. Both tragedies point to system failures that could have been avoided if tighter regulations had been in place.
In the Ikosi incident, the odour of leaking gas had been perceived since the previous day, but had been allowed to saturate the environment so completely that even the presence of the Fire Service could not prevent disaster. The shop involved in the Badagry catastrophe was full of gas cylinders piled up in an allegedly unventilated space; it is suspected that damaged cylinder heads released the gas which eventually exploded.
Accidents are inevitable, even when all possible precautions have been taken. The problem in these and other cases is that prevention and safety measures were apparently very slack and created situations that were the prelude to disaster.
Why were there no functional gas detectors and other warning devices in the Ikosi station which would have immediately alerted the workers the moment there was a leak? Why was the Badagry shop so badly ventilated given the highly inflammable nature of the goods it stored? How could the regulatory authorities approve the continued operations of businesses that apparently paid so little attention to basic safety?
The response measures in the Ikosi incident have also come into question. Emergency procedures dictated the clearing of the area and the halting of all vehicular traffic while the problem was dealt with. How well was the area cleared? The two casualties are said to be homeless men whose shanty was positioned against the outer perimeter fencing of the station. Some reports of the incident say vehicles were still passing in front of the gas station while the Fire Service was trying to resolve the issue; one such vehicle is alleged to have ignited the gas.
As usual, the regulators have issued the typical reassurances that the matter will be fully investigated and standards strictly enforced. The Department of Petroleum Resources (DPR), which is in charge of the retail gas sub-sector, has argued that the Ikosi station was not in a heavily built-up area the way it is now when it was set up in 1996. This is a shallow argument; if safety measures demanded a specific amount of space for the station to operate securely, they should have been enforced, regardless of how many houses were built around it.
If Nigeria is to move beyond the cycle of needless death and property damage caused by gas explosions, safety regulations must be enforced much more strictly than they have been so far. A comprehensive survey of all gas-dispensing installations, stations and shops in the country must be carried out without delay, and those that are found to have breached established safety requirements should be closed down until they meet them.
The siting of gas businesses in densely-populated areas must be discouraged; in this regard, the town-planning edicts which are supposed to manage such issues must be strictly enforced. Where disaster occurs as a result of proven negligence, the culprits concerned must be sanctioned to the fullest extent of the law.
Gas has become indispensable to Nigeria. Its environmental and other advantages are well known. But as more citizens transition away from wood and charcoal, it is vital that its dangers are reduced to the barest minimum