Cylinder tragedy in Lahore

Published: February 7, 2012

Residents and rescue workers go through the rubble of a three-story factory building, which collapsed in Lahore February 6, 2012. PHOTO: REUTERS

With severe shortage of natural gas being encountered in Punjab, the use of gas-filled cylinders has become more and more common, both within homes and at places of work. After all, in houses and in factories, life has to be kept running one way or the other. It would appear then that it was the use of such a cylinder that caused a massive explosion on February 6, at a medicine factory on Multan Road in Lahore. Around 100 people are believed to be buried under the debris of the three-storey building, which has collapsed completely. A nearby house has also partially collapse. Rescue workers have succeeded in saving a handful of people, bringing at least six women and two children out from under the rubble — but as the images of the devastated building suggest, it seems certain the death toll will be a high one; even with the use of the modern equipment brought in by the 1122 rescue service, saving the victims appears to be an uphill task.

The precise nature of the incident is, of course, still being examined, though investigators seem convinced a gas cylinder triggered the blast. There have been accidents of similar nature before — in Lahore and elsewhere around the country. CNG kits in vehicles have caused other accidents, again claiming a high toll on lives. It seems quite evident that there is a need for better safety standards — both in the manufacture of cylinders and their use. Despite a ban, the hazardous process of refilling cylinders continues. And, of course, safety mechanisms installed within factories are virtually unknown, with even fire extinguishers being a rarity.

With more attention to safety — and greater value for human lives — it may be possible to avert a significant number of deaths and injuries. The real question to be asked is whether authorities have the will and the commitment required to go about this, both by regulating cylinder manufacture and safety conditions within factories. And if they do not demonstrate this will, then more unfortunate deaths in the future are inevitable.

Published in The Express Tribune, February 7th, 2012.

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