This article was actually published in the Daily Dispatch newspaper and I thought I should share with my readers here too for a lesson or two. The news of the Atomic Junction gas station explosion is still fresh on our minds. My Compatriot, is it a news at all? I am asking so because I think it was one too many fires of death and is no longer a news. Yet as usual, it became a hotcake and everyone was in a hurry to take a slice. I didn’t really take my time to listen to radio or watch television reports on this disaster but I knew my instincts would never betray me: the usual blame game or the perpetual reference to institutional failures were the fulcrum of the discussions.

It is said that when you fall, you don’t look at where you have fallen but rather what makes you fall. On the contrary, it’s apparently clear that as a people we dwell so much on where have fallen instead of focusing on what has actual caused us to fall. I have tried to hold back my disappointment in the way we have chosen to do this kind of thing to ourselves but I can’t help it. I guess by now some people may have been put together into a committee and tasked to perform the usual ritual: investigate the accident and come up with recommendations. As for this one, my Compatriot, I can bet my very last cedi on it without a second thought because we’re very good at it.

I have heard a couple of different accounts and the narrative is getting interesting. I heard from the grapevine that the operators of the station were aware of the leakage but failed to take immediate action to avoid possible disaster. The truth, as it were, would come up if root cause analysis investigation is carried out. And so, the attempt to blame the kheebab seller is neither here nor there! In any case, I believe the kheebab seller has been there all this while doing his business. I fall short to say which one of them – the gas station or the kheebab seller – has been there before the other. Granted that the gas station has been there long before the kheebab seller, was he ever told how dangerous his business is in relation to the gas station? Assuming that was done; what further action was taken?

To widen that argument further, my Compatriot, let me emphasize the fact that we have a lot of such businesses operating very close to service stations. In some cases, we have restaurants located within service stations. What about that? What about the service stations that are hosting churches? Liquified Petroleum Gas (LPG) is a dangerous substance. It is light and can travel far and fast. Its risk level is very high and therefore requires extra safety measures to be taken during loading and offloading. So that if LP gas is leaking, even exhaust fumes can ignite explosion once it comes into contact with it.

The major hazard of gas is explosion. My Compatriot, what form of risk assessment was done and what safety measures were adopted before discharging the gas? I am surprised that those involved in discharging the gas were aware that the gas was leaking.

The other big question I want to ask, my Compatriot, is that who granted the permit for these service stations to be sited in communities? Who granted permit for residential homes to be developed around service stations that were hitherto isolated? We watch these things happen around us and you we wonder if our state institutions with the mandate to regulate some of these developments are actually on top of their work. It’s not surprising though that permits are granted for people to build even in water ways or build on ‘encroached’ lands only to be pulled down. Our state institutions have simply condoned the perpetration of wrong ourselves. Isn’t it sad?

A friend told me a story about something that happened when he was schooling in Europe. He said there was this day he and his roommates killed a cat. While they were preparing the cat at the back of their hostel, a police officer on a motorcade came to them to inquire what they were up to. He said the police officer said he was radioed that smoke was coming from their location. After they had explained to him what they were doing, he radioed back with the explanation that some African students were preparing some ‘strange meat’. This is how systems work elsewhere around the world.

How much education have been given to the pump attendants and drivers of the fuel tankers plying our roads? Have they been taught risk assessments and hazard identification in relation to their operation as far as safety is concerned? In response to these questions, I have been given an eye-witness account of what gas tanker driver did upon detecting the gas was leaking. He parked immediately and that stretch of the road was quickly cordoned off and the traffic diverted to the other side. They quickly started suppressing the leakage with foam while using water to cool the tank to avoid explosion. You’re surprised at that level of proactiveness? Imagine what would have happened if they had not acted fast! Similar thing happened on the Accra – Winneba road. The police and the fire service intervened very early and vehicles were blocked hundreds of metres away from the scene.

That said, I have also heard that Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) had earlier warned the operators of this very station in question now over that non-conformance. Yes… only warning; no further stringent punitive action was taken against them: for example, closing the station down. Once you noticed non-compliance, the rule that applies in safety is to shut down the place! But hey, my Compatriot, can they turn away their eyes from a fat brown envelope that is very inviting and close down the station?

Talk of safety signs at these service stations; do we respect them? No, I mean do we really understand them? Because I have seen most cars buying fuel with their ignitions left on. I have seen people on board vehicles that are buying fuel on phone call.
How often are the fuel tankers and the storage tanks inspected to detect those defects and fix them? Gas storage tanks are supposed to have water sprinklers fixed on top of them so that water is sprinkled over it periodically to cool the content due to high temperature that result in heating.
Even the basic knowledge in gas cylinder handling which simply postulates a cylinder that contains gas should not be rolled on the ground; how many of us apply it or at least, know about it? When you roll a cylinder with gas on the ground or any surface, it causes reaction and that can cause it to explode.
In terms of basic knowledge about fire, I must admit, we don’t have it. We also don’t have knowledge about elements of fire and how fire comes about. After all is said and done about this unfortunate incidence that has led to loss of lives and property once again, I want to emphasize that more will be said than done!