STORAGE OF EXPLOSIVES – LESSONS LEARNT FROM THE EXPLOSION OF Rui Hai WAREHOUSE IN CHINA

Explosives are hazardous materials and need specially designed storage area for the safety of the materials stored in 2015081309333827539_1the store as well as the safety of people working in such areas. The storage and handling practices for explosives are different from the storage and handling practices of the normal materials. Strict safety measures are taken to avoid any mis-happening due to storage of the explosives in the warehouses. Usually, explosive stores/warehouses are kept away from the normal operations in the plants. Explosive warehouses are not built near the residential areas so that any accident, if occurs, does not lead to major disaster. The design of the warehouse for the storage of explosives have special building features to avoid any accident due to fire. The electric control switches should not be inside the warehouse to eliminate any chance of sparking or short-circuiting in the warehouse. Similarly, any light fitting such as a tube light or a bracket holder should be air tight and should not have any chance of a short- circuit.

 The case of explosion in the Rue Hai warehouse at Tianjin, China

            The Rui Hai warehouse in the northern Chinese port city Tianjin stores chemicals and toxic materials in containers at the warehouse. The warehouse belonged to Rui Hai International Logistics, which deals with the storage and transportation of chemical cargo.

The state-run Xinhua news agency, on August 13, 2015, reported the blast in the warehouse, which occurred at 11.20 PM on August 12, 2015. The blast was so serious that it lead to more explosions in nearby companies also. The explosion resulted in killing 44 people, including 12 firefighters and injuring 520 others. The injuries were mostly from broken glasses or stones. The loss of human life and injuries increased in the following days. Chemistryworld (September 18, 2015) reported the figure of deaths from the explosion as 165, including 99 firemen, 11 police and 55 civilians. It is reported that 800 tons of ammonium nitrate, 500 tons of potassium nitrate and 700 tons of sodium cyanide and large quantities of calcium carbide was stored in the warehouse along with other materials.  Although, the investigations of the accident are yet to be completed, initials findings show number of failures and non-adherence of regulatory directions. Some of them are given below:

  • Rue Hai did not follow the sealing measures of the stores as per legal requirements.
  • The quantity of sodium cyanide stored was 700 tones, much more than the licensed quantity of 10 tones.
  • The location of the Rue Hai store was within 1km of the residential house, which is less than the minimum required distance.
  • Water was used to extinguish the fire which resulted in further blasts damaging the port and nearby buildings including injuries to staff, firemen and residents of the area.

Lessons learnt

            The explosion of the Rue Hai warehouse and the damage to humans as well as to the assets and properties is a clear indication of violation of the rules and regulations laid down by the regulatory bodies. This type of happenings can be avoided by the following measures:

  • Strictly follow the rules and regulations and safety measures.
  • Improve safety standards, especially in case of hazardous materials.
  • Industrial layout should be planned in such a way that the explosive warehouses are away from the residential area.
  • Train the staff of fire services to improve their skills and knowledge about the hazardous materials, safe working procedures and practices.
  • Improve safety awareness and develop a safety culture.
  • Share the information on hazardous materials, best practices about the safe storage of mat.
  • Warehouse building should be designed with proper system design.

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