A photograph posted on social media by the DHA Lahore Residents Group shows a group of at least six tall red gas cylinders beneath an electricity transformer, directly in front of the properties that suffered from the explosion in Lahore on 23 February. The owner-operator of one of the restaurants in the back of the image acknowledges that they were his, were empty and posed no risk. The image points up a problem that is anecdotally reported to be endemic in the restaurant, café and fast-food industry nationwide. There is no shortage of anecdotal evidence that certainly in Lahore and in all likelihood elsewhere that owners of such establishments use bottled gas because of the difficulty of getting a new gas connection from the state supplier and the unreliability of that supply year round — fluctuations in pressure and complete cutoffs at assorted times. Considering that the owner-operators of such establishments are entirely dependent on a reliable and controllable source of heat to cook with, it is small wonder that they have turned to bottled gas.
Bottled gas is entirely safe to use so long as appropriate safety precautions are observed, and their storage while in use in cellar spaces is never advisable. Questions have to be asked of the regulatory bodies that license all such establishments as to whether they appropriately discharged their duties in the case of the tragic incident in Lahore. Were the regulators aware that gas cylinders were placed in a potentially hazardous situation and if so why was the café allowed to go ahead with its proposed opening? If they were not aware then there may be a case to be made regarding criminal negligence. Workplace safety is often overlooked in Pakistan. There are innumerable verified accounts of absent fire escapes, locked or chained emergency exits and a lack of staff awareness in terms of evacuation procedures in the event of an emergency. The injuries and loss of life in the Lahore incident may have been entirely preventable, and if so then those responsible must be identified and prosecuted with the full weight of the law.
Published in The Express Tribune, February 25th, 2017.
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