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Safety to rethink

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Every time an  accidents takes place, apart from sorrow in nation and families of victims, there is loss on National Resources. While we attribute luck factor to occurrence an accident, we cannot ignore the fact that the accidents are indicators of system inefficiency. The system inefficiency gets transferred to name less people and their relatives. After the occurrence of an accident (Road, Rail, Air, buildings, Mining etc) the usual reactions take place. The actions include face saving and to draw political mileage. Asking for resignations, and blaming the government. To assuage public opinion, more often than not, enquiry is ordered, ex-gratia payments or visit to homes of victims house takes place.

Let us now start with investigations. The composition of board is normally from safety organization. In some cases a judge is appointed. Can you expect impartiality from serving officers? Would any officer find fault with his own organization? In the interest of individual career, there is likely to be distortion/misinformation in the report. Is the expected impartiality of a high court judge a good enough reason to head the investigation? The systems are now interrelated and complex, the likelihood of understanding systems is in question. Think about it, that in case I know the investigation team is likely to blame me, will truth come out? In every investigation, there are various stake holders (manufacturer, operating organization, trade unions who in interest of their own  brand equity may like to shift the blame on somebody else. Most of the times an investigations TRUTH is the first causality. Thus jeopardizing safety of future generations.

India is transforming at a massive speed. The transformation plan includes construction high-speed roads, high rise buildings, ports, the proposed bullet train, airlines, mega industrial/ power plants and industries. For safety systems to work effectively there is a need for the intelligentsia to provide inputs and share their experiences in devising safety safety infrastructure in India but also help in implementing the same. This is now possible, as sharing of knowledge has become cheaper, more convenient and effective.

First thing I feel there is a need for codification of experience/knowledge on devising/ implementing security systems’ With this in mind, I had started a LinkedIn group called “Safety India”. During three years, there have been only three messages. Obviously, nobody is concerned. There are various issues, on which we are silent and do not bother. Take for example of Airbags fitted on most of the cars, to minimize the collision impact on passengers. This safety feature is highlighted by car manufacturers as a marketing USP. For a feature like this there is no servicing schedule. If no service schedule is required then it must be mentioned in car manual. Is it not necessary to have some kind of inspection to improve the survival of the occupants? There is no servicing provision in the maintenance schedule for air bags. Which organization is supposed to look into this omission and seek clarification from  the manufacturer.

We are talking of speedier trains, large units of goods and services, high rise buildings/ skyscrapers. Do wee have support system to ensure safety of occupants. A builder wants to build a skyscraper. The present inspection and monitoring agencies are more builder-friendly than consumer friendly. In case of an emergency evacuation from a high rise, who is supposed to have the capability to evacuate the occupants? The builder or the fire department? We seem to be waiting for a disaster to happen. In case a disaster happens, reactions will range from candle marches to blame game supported by vested groups.

Each modern innovation introduced has a deep-rooted safety impact. Apart from process and system safety, there is a need to study the long-term effects in relation to the environment.

The introduction of new systems and technology has a systematic impact on the overall environment. Let us take the example of induction of radar to improve landing rate. At some point of time, air space will be congested. Aircraft with higher capacities require improved   management of airspace, higher capacity evacuation plan. While I concede that enough precautions are planned and factored in by manufacturers/suppliers and operators, still there is a need for system studies and implementation of standardized procedures and periodic monitoring of the same by independent and competent agencies.

Let us take another example. We hear of trains being delayed because of poor visibility, and at the same time, we hear about train speed being increased. To my mind, a collision avoidance radar could reduce the delay due to poor visibility. The introduction of high speed trains including bullet train will have their own safety dimensions. There are railway over bridges in Mumbai.Most of them very old . When were the bridges planned? What was the load factor envisaged and for how long ? Depending on traffic, a periodic study should be carried out. designated  thou investigation, there are no lessons learnt.

The existing shortcomings in the capability of fire-fighting systems may be to the builders’ delight, but who will be answerable in case of a human tragedy? The shortcomings have to be identified honestly and diligently and then rectified. To my mind, safety means creating standards and procedures for induction of new equipment/ technology and changed environment. After this, comes testing and retesting them over a period of time to see the effect of the new induction on the entire environment.

While there may be studies in safety, the impartiality of the studies could be in doubt. Safety rules have been made by vested interests to cater to the lobbies. Over a period of time, the safety system gets diluted. Inhabitants—be they in buildings, malls, or passengers traveling by surface transport—are the sufferers.

There are existing safety programs They have been introduced by the operator. Some programs are for the users and some for the operators. One wonders at the efficacy of prevention programs These need to be audited at regular intervals and remedial processes suggested. Preventive programs have to be ongoing .

I recommend formation of a National Safety Board. The Board should have quasi judicial powers and  have separate wings for each of the roles. The charter of duties should laying of standards, enforcement, inspection investigation, and research and development. The organization must covers  various all aspects of safety. While the role of the investigation wing is straight-forward,the enforcement part will have monitoring and upgrade role, the R&D wing will be expected to study new technologies and inter-relationship between technical and environment interface. It will also be monitoring authority for setting up services standards at all levels.

A detailed organization can be worked out. The Board should have members who have extensive experience in setting up safety systems and processes in their own organizations. The manpower could be drawn from the Railways, Armed forces, as well as the air and surface transportation and scientific communities. We have enough committed professionals in India to form the core team. I am sure this move  will save a lot in national resources and limit  human tragedies.


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