• Thursday, June 20, 2024
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Frequent tanker explosions rouse regulator into toughening safety rules

Frequent tanker explosions rouse regulator into toughening safety rules

As fire outbreaks in petrol depots become more frequent, the regulator says it will now resume health, safety, and environment (HSE) audits for depots, making a successful audit the basis for issuing licences.

The Nigerian Midstream and Downstream Petroleum Regulatory Authority (NMDPRA), in a meeting with depot owners, tanker drivers, and other stakeholders in Lagos on Wednesday, said the HSE technical audit will evaluate the adequacy of the HSE requirements, competency and training of staff engaged by the operators.

“This will no longer be business as usual, it is now safety first; the NMDPRA would ensure that the aspirations of the Federal Government by passing the Petroleum Industry Act (PIA) is achieved,” said Olubunmi Adeyemi, head of safety at the NMDPRA.

Though there are clearly defined health and safety standards in the PIA and the different guidelines issued by the upstream and downstream regulators on opening and operating a depot or haulage services, these rules have largely been ignored by operators.

This has led to frequent cases of fire gutting depots and tankers exploding on highways, resulting in the loss of lives and property.

Last October, 10 people were burned to death in a tanker explosion at the Sagamu interchange, along the Lagos-Ibadan expressway in Ogun State. Another tanker explosion in April killed three, and there were also several documented cases of fire depots in Lagos.

“The law has provided in clear terms that in the case of negligence by any operator, such operator would be sanctioned accordingly,” the official said.

“Although, our aim is not to sanction the operators but to ensure that operations are run in a safe manner to protect people, assets and the environment is the reason for today’s engagement.”

In a roomful of operators who have operated on the margins of safety rules, often lacking adequate insurance and employing untrained personnel to drive trucks, it would seem something more than mollification would suffice.

The regulator, operators say, has also been negligent in enforcing safety standards. Licences have been issued to petrol stations inside heavily populated residential areas without safety guardrails. People now have retail Liquefied Petroleum Gas refilling stations besides bukas, where cooking is done over open fires.

The regulator said HSE needs to be on the front burner to attract the growth of the business, reduce insurance premiums, protect the public, and reawaken the safety consciousness in their operations. It seems the regulator would need to take its own advice.

The regulator had identified inadequate training for drivers and unauthorised or unlicensed individuals (motor boys, etc.) driving trucks, poor truck and hose integrity, and a lack of grounding (earthing) during loading and discharging of products in trucks as reasons for tanker incidents.

Read also: Operating costs, FX losses erode downstream oil firms’ profits by 24%

Others are failure to let the product settle before discharging, discharging during unfavourable weather conditions, lack of safety features on trucks (e.g., safety valves, adequate firefighting equipment), ageing trucks, and construction and modification of tanks by contractors that are uncertified and without the required NMDPRA permits.

In the meeting with operators, the regulator stressed that Part V, Section 174(1)(d) of the PIA, gave it the power to act. “Except in accordance with an appropriate licence issued by the Authority, a person shall not undertake the following activities with respect to midstream petroleum liquids operations- engage in bulk transportation of petroleum liquids by rail, barge, or other means within Nigeria.”

However, this power has done little to stem frequent cases of tanker explosions. Between 2018 and 2023, according to the regulator’s record, there were 244 incidents resulting in 412 fatalities. This year alone, there have been eight incidents, and it’s only March.

The regulator also provided guidance to depot operators. It said practices that are risky include the fact that some tanks at the depots are either not equipped with lightning protection or are not well maintained. Storage tanks with flammable liquids stand the risk of fire without adequate lightning protection.

The regulator said the proper approach is that HSE should be managed from a business perspective and not for compliance purposes only. This is to say that HSE-related matters should be integrated into the management decision-making process, it said.