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ATOMIC JUNCTION: AFTER THE EXPLOSION

General News

A year on from a string of disastrous petrol station fires, how far has Ghana come with reducing the risk to our lives?

A year on from a string of disastrous petrol station fires, how far has Ghana come with reducing the risk to our lives?

 

On the evening of Saturday 7 October 2017, residents of the Legon, Adenta, University of Ghana and Atomic Junction quarters in the northern part of Accra were thrown into a state of panic by the sound of a loud explosion, source unknown. A near-stampede followed as people ran helter-skelter in neighbouring areas.
The panic only grew worse when, minutes later, there was a second huge explosion.

The first blast occurred at the Mansco filling station at Atomic Junction at about 7.20pm, the result of a gas leak. The gas immediately caught fire and spread to a Total filling station next door, leading to another explosion. Hundreds of passengers at the junction, a major public transport transfer point, as well as traders and residents here and in surrounding areas fled for safety as the dual explosion lit up the skies and caused debilitating heatwaves.

According to later news reports, seven lives were lost, 130 people incurred injuries and many properties were destroyed.

Government intervenes

Many theories emerged as people demanded to know the cause of the accident. The Atomic Junction explosion was one of eight that had occurred in Ghana between 2014 and 2017.

The public relations director of the Ghana National Fire Service (GNFS) on the scene in the immediate aftermath of the explosion did not rule out some of the theories that began to circulate, though he said it was inappropriate to blame the “kebab seller” singled out by some news reporters. The GNFS made it clear that blatant disregard for discharge protocols and safety regulations were behind the explosions. It declared immediately that new directives would be issued to gas stations.

President Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo promptly ordered the implementation of interim enhanced safety measures for all liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) infrastructure, plant and equipment across the country. The measures were introduced after the next cabinet meeting, held on Thursday October 12. A statement from the presidency the same day copied to the Ghana News Agency said that, under the new regulations, a task force would be deployed within 30 days to undertake risk assessments of all LPG facilities nationwide.

The safety measures included:
· Immediate inspection of all filling stations and vigorous enforcement of existing regulations by the National Petroleum Authority (NPA)

· Review of the licensing regime

· Institution of mandatory training and certification for regulatory staff

· Oil marketing companies (OMCs) and LPG marketing companies to ensure safe handling of LPG

· Review of safety protocols along the entire value chain

· Deployment of a task force within 30 days

· Immediate incorporation of standards and guidelines developed by the Ghana Standards Authority governing the handling, storage and distribution of LPG and other petroleum products as technical regulations to strengthen the enforcement regime

· Recruitment by the NPA of 200 safety auditors to join the staff of the Factories Inspectorate division of the Ministry of Employment and Labour Relations; these auditors would check regularly on all stations to ensure full compliance with safety standards and practices

· Expedition of action by the Fire Service and Police Service to conclude ongoing investigations

· Any operator or regulatory official against whom any act of criminal negligence is established to face the full rigours of the law

· Immediate cessation until further notice of all construction of facilities intended for use as gas or petroleum retail outlets.

New protocols

In addition to the safety measures set out by the cabinet, the GNFS activated new protocols and issued fresh directives to petrol filling stations. They would no longer be allowed to flout safety rules in discharging their duties.

In line with the new measures to curb gas explosions, the GNFS directed filling stations to prompt the nearest fire station before any offloading of products by distributors. Prince Billy Anaglatey, the Service’s director in charge of public relations, told Joy News that the service would monitor the filling stations’ operations keenly.

“We will insist that any time they would have to offload gas they will need to inform the local fire station within the community that will give them fire cover,” Anaglatey said. He reiterated that under the directives, filling station operators would be compelled to meet “safety standards before offloading”.

At the 12 October cabinet meeting, the President of the Republic, acting on the advice of his ministers, directed that henceforth the cylinder recirculation model be implemented for LPG distribution. Under this model, LPG bottling plants were to be sited away from congested commercial and population centres and obliged to procure, brand, maintain and fill empty cylinders to be distributed to consumers and households through retail outlets.

Low-risk stations were to be designated for supplying petrol to vehicle owners. The exercise was set to be completed within a year.

Signs of progress?

According to the National Petroleum Authority, since the incident last year, the cabinet directives to ensure adherence to the cylinder recirculation policy have been rolled out.

Stakeholders from the various agencies concerned, including the oil marketing firms and the marketers of LPG, have been involved in the reform process and the NPA has remained in constant contact with them through various meetings.

In July this year, the NPA engaged residents of the Maamobi/Nima areas to consult, listen to them and find out what ideas they might have about the policy and how it should be rolled out. In the next phase of the project, the exercise is set to be replicated across all ten regions of Ghana.

More importantly, risk assessments have been conducted at all LPG refilling plants across the country and there is a greater awareness about respect for safety measures and why the regulations should be enforced.

Back to peace

The NPA’s own safety and environmental affairs department is dealing with related issues and has stepped up its training regimes for the various personnel and officers of the oil marketing companies. This is to ensure that they operate within the new system, which in turn encourages public confidence in their work, said the NPA’s communications director, Joshua Anny Osabutey.

Ghana has not suffered any major gas explosion since the Atomic Junction incident. Local residents are living in peace, knowing that their lives and property are in far less danger.

The change in atmosphere proves how respect by Ghanaian workers, petroleum and gas distributors and petrol filling station owners for the new discharge protocols will go a long way to benefit all of us.