Madurai: The recent spate of accidents in the fireworks units in Sivakasi, the country`s fireworks hub, claiming more than 40 lives has brought to fore inadequate safety arrangements, lack of training to labourers and the growth of unregistered units.
Since July 7, four fire accidents, including three in registered fireworks units, have taken place in the region, also known for its off-set printing and match industries, killing over 40 workers and injuring many others.
Industry stakeholders feel that such accidents are occurring as the workers in these units are forced to work under stressful schedules to meet the increasing demand for crackers.
Besides, the introduction of Chinese pyrotechnics without the required specialised training was also cited as one of the reasons by them.
Fire officials said most of the units did not follow various norms. After the recent mishaps, DGP Fire and Rescue service Natarajan had directed the department personnel to inspect the factories, especially big units, on daily basis.
He had also instructed that the units should have proper water tanks, and road facility for easy access for the fire fighting units, an official said.
Four special teams had been formed to conduct surprise checks at these units, he said. The Fireworks Manufacturers` Association, however, maintains that fire accidents occurred mainly in unregistered units.
With about 650 large and small fireworks units, this Tamil Nadu town caters to the demand for crackers from both within the country and overseas. These units manufacture about 300 varieties of fireworks.
Given its rapid industrialisation, the late prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru gave Sivakasi the nick name "kutty (mini) Japan".
According to Santhanakumar, a foreman, the accidents had increased only after introduction of Chinese pyrotechnics which required specialised training for mixing the chemicals and packing them in different combinations.
With demand for fireworks increasing, the number of hours required for packing chemicals in crackers had also gone up, said M Dharmaraj, a worker.
"Though there is a rule that chemical packing should be done only for three hours, it is done for more than 12 hours, resulting in fatigue and carelessness in handling the work," said a local police officer.
V Kannan, a worker based at Tiruthangal, who had received training for pyrotechnics in China, says unrecognised units use "spurious and substandard chemicals" for manufacturing crackers. They could affect not only the workers, but even the people who used the fireworks during Diwali. Another worker and a trade union member, C Rajadurai alleged that the factories which manufactured novel fireworks worth Rs 1,000-Rs 1,200 crore were disregarding safety norms.
Manager of a registered factory on the condition of anonymity said every year new combinations and varieties were introduced by big units to meet competitions, but the workers were not properly trained to handle them.
Some of unregistered units operate in the night hours in violation of rules as electric sparks could trigger accidents. The Explosives Control Bureau and police should look into this matter but they were not taking any action, he alleged.
There was shortage of fire service personnel. There were only 30 personnel against the sanctioned strength of 40. The southern districts also lack fully-equipped rescue vans.
On the medical management of the injured, industry sources said there was no special burns ward at both Virudhunagar and Madurai Government hospitals.
Meanwhile, eight persons running illegal fireworks units have been arrested and crackers worth Rs 15 lakh have been seized.
District Superintendent of Police P Krishnamurthy said the surprise checks in villages would continue and even registered fireworks units would be subjected to a series of checks.