x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Learn from diesel blast in Mussaffah

Friday's diesel-tank explosion in Mussaffah should become a learning experience for everyone who uses such tanks.

The column of black smoke that rose above Mussaffah on Friday afternoon was more than a signal that something was burning. The noxious fumes also told people for many kilometres around that more must be done to prevent such accidents.

Nobody was killed or even injured in the incident, although power cuts and evacuations were imposed on labourers and others living nearby, in the midday July heat during Ramadan. And firefighters, especially the Muslim ones who were fasting, had a bad time.

But if that is the total price, and if the right lessons are learnt from the event by all of those who manage and maintain diesel tanks and other fuel installations, then this will prove to have come at a bargain price. Every fuel tank is a potential bomb, and these three blew up beside a labour camp; the human and financial cost could have been much higher.

As an important producer and exporter of petroleum, the UAE has world-class expertise in handling these volatile materials. And hot weather is certainly no novelty in this country. So it is somewhat puzzling that this incident could happen.

Officials at the scene on Friday told The National that the trouble started when one tank, sheltered only under an umbrella, exploded, at about 11.30am, due to the heat of the day. Two more tanks followed, either because of the weather or as a result of the first blast. It took until 5pm for the fire to be brought under control; meanwhile some other tanks nearby were being sprayed with water to keep them cool.

Incidents like this are not common, although diesel fuel is widely used. So experts will now be trying to reconstruct exactly what happened in Mussaffah. Once the cause is understood, the lesson can to be applied.

First, standards of storage and infrastructure requirements for facilities like this one may need to be amended. Second, if the standards and equipment for diesel tanks are already satisfactory, then enforcement may need to be tightened because even perfect rules are useless if they are not being followed or enforced. It may be that companies using tanks like these need to give certain employees refresher training. Or, depending on what the inquiry finds, other measures may suggest themselves.

And as we have written many times before, the "culture of safety" needs to be taught and reinforced continually among companies and their employees.