Worst Ever Industrial Disasters

Industrial disasters can be devastating. Many of us think ‘we’ve all gone Health & Safety mad!’, but it doesn’t take long to find a multitude of situations where people have lost lives due to lack of Health & Safety precautions being in place in industry.So what constitutes an industrial disaster?An industrial disaster can be caused accidentally, through negligence, or through incompetence. There doesn’t always have to be fault, but as we become more Health & Safety aware, it’s more common for someone, or a group, to have to face accusations after a disaster. If there are high levels of damage, or injury caused, or loss of life, and the cause is related to the business of an industrial organisation, then the tragedy would be referred to as an industrial disaster. Prior to the industrial revolution of the 18th Century, there were not the same levels of disaster other than from causes of nature.Let’s take a look at some of the worst industrial disasters through time, and the gravity of the consequences of each.Silo Explosion – Oppau, Germany, September 1921. A plant which had been producing ammonium sulphate prior to WW1, had to start producing ammonium nitrate, as it could be made without imported sulphur. Both types were stacked in a silo, which then turned into a plaster like substance under its own weight. Workers couldn’t get at the mixture to break it up with pick axes for danger of being buried under the collapsing weight. In order to break up the mixture, the workers used some dynamite charges.The explosive nature of ammonium nitrate was well known, but this procedure was in fact a common one in the industry. Despite a similarly caused disaster occurring in Germany 2 months earlier, the warning wasn’t heeded and the practice continued. At Oppau, the scale of devastation was so bad that 300km away in Munich a loud bang was heard, 30km away traffic had to stop from so much shattered glass, and a pressure wave tore roofs off house up to 25km away. In the town 80% of homes were destroyed leaving 6,500 homeless, 2000 people were injured and 500-600 people killed, including all those working in the vicinity.Nuclear Disaster – in 1986, a flawed reactor, teamed with insufficiently trained personnel, led to the Chernobyl nuclear power plant disaster, which saw 2 people killed from the explosions on site, and 28 people died within a few weeks due to acute radiation poisoning, and 19 died in later years, although the connection to the disaster can’t be proved. The steam explosion and fires which occurred released 5% of the radioactive reactor core into the local environment. They were still trying to put the fires out after 10 days, when they could no longer use water after the first ½ day for fear of flooding the other reactors, they dropped sand, clay, lead etc. onto the burning core from helicopters to try and stop the blaze and release of radioactive particles.Away from the plant, no one suffered from acute radiation poisoning, although there was a rise in child thyroid cancer diagnoses, which many believe to be due to the iodine fallout from the disaster. Large areas of land in surrounding towns and across country borders were contaminated. People were relocated to different areas, and the resettlement process is still going on now.Weapons explosion – prior to the invention of nuclear technologies, the worst man-made explosion occurred in Halifax, Canada, in 1917. Destroying the entire district of Richmond, the explosion was caused when a French cargo ship, SS Mont Blanc, carrying wartime weapons collided with a Norwegian ship, SS Imo, on November 6th. The collision caused a fire to break out, which in turn ignited the explosives on board. A huge explosion was caused, killing 2000 people and injuring 9000 from fires, falling debris, and collapsing buildings.The explosion caused all buildings within half a mile to be obliterated. A pressure wave tore down trees, and bent iron railings. It caused other vessels to run aground, and buildings to fall. A tsunami was also caused, which itself caused deaths and devastation, wiping out the entire local community of Mi’kmaq First Nations people that had lived in the Tuft’s Cove area for generations.Gas leak – considered by many to be the world’s worst industrial disaster. In 1984, in Bhopal, India, over 2000 lives were lost within a couple of days from an industrial chemical plant leak. It’s thought over 500,000 were exposed to methyl isocyanate (MIC) gas and other chemicals, as the heavy and dense gas made its way quickly around the shanty towns which were located nearby to the chemical plant. Figures aren’t confirmed for how many people died after the initial few days, but estimates are that a further 8000 died within two weeks, and a further 8000 since from gas-related diseases. A further 500,000 people are thought to have received injuries from the leak.There is still debate over the cause of the disaster, with the Indian government claiming the company failed to meet maintenance requirements, causing pipe blockages, whilst the company maintains the disaster was caused by an act of sabotage, with an external party causing water to enter the tank.Either way, this is a perfect example of the sort of devastation that has been caused only since the industrial revolution, and why all of us should be meticulous in following important Health & Safety regulations, such as fire precautions workplace regulations 1997 & 1999, and taking responsibility for our fellow workers, and people living and working in surrounding towns and villages.