Changing procedure in the aftermath of Tianjin

 On China’s east coast, 146km south west of Beijing, lies the port city of Tianjin. With a population of 15,200,000 it is a bustling hub of business, finance and industry. And on 12th August 2015, the city was rocked by a series of explosions that resulted in the deaths of over one hundred people, with many more suffering injuries.

The explosions came from the cluttered Ruihai warehouse, one of many in the busy Binhai district of the sea port. The warehouse contained numerous different hazardous chemicals that were thought to number up to 3,000 tonnes based on various reports. These reports also paint a picture of a warehouse in disarray, with lax protocols and little regard for public welfare. It goes without saying that the fact they were stored in such a haphazard fashion, above allowed quantities and in close proximity to residential buildings shows a clear violation of safety regulations; but, the Tianjin explosions have also served to highlight more so China’s questionable industrial safety record as a whole during their drive for expansion as a global industrial power.

In 2014, official statistics displayed a death toll of 68,061 from work accidents across the year - this equates as just over 180 deaths each day. However, the Tianjin fatalities occurred in the fourth largest city in the country; modern and prosperous. As such, images of the explosions had spread across the world within minutes. Chinese safety, and the high risk of industrial disasters, are once again in the forefront of the world’s attention.

In the aftermath of the explosions, which have continued sporadically since the night of 12th August, various failures have been identified. These include ill-prepared first responders such as firefighters who used water to combat the flames, which may have contributed to further runaway chemical reactions in situations that echo our previous sustainability blog, on the Bhopal disaster.

Thus, the measures required to prevent something like this again in China are vast, but have begun nonetheless. Chinese safety authorities are scrambling to crack down on firms similar to Ruihai International Logistics, with more than 100 firms across the country shut down or suspended in the weeks following the first explosions. These are now the first in a nationwide safety review, prompted by the serious defeats in the current system.

There is a situation where China has two variables – the expansion of the country, and safety in the workplace – and they are not progressing in tandem. Safety is running to catch up with the major advancements in industrial growth, and as a result, major failures occur.

A greater importance must be placed on industrial safety on a global scale, with international precedents set to which we all must comply. Adherence to, and enforcement of national regulatory measures will need to be the foundation for this, the negligence of which is exacerbated by events such as Tianjin.

Ensuring safety shouldn’t be a knee-jerk reaction after the catastrophic scenes on the Chinese east coast, but something which is ingrained into the working procedures of each nation. Workers should be certified in all practices relating to the hazards of their work – certification which comes from a formal procedure. Setting clear and concise standards, which have been intuitively documented and practised alongside compliance training may be one way to achieve this. Only then will we see the welfare standards deserved for each worker across the globe.

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Photo: "2015 Tianjin explosion - Crop" by Eristic-霖璟. Licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0 via Commons. Link.

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