11 April, 2004
Name of deceased: R. Radhakrishnan
Age: 40 yrs
Job description: contract worker in TANFAC
On 11th April 2004, R. Radhakrishnan - a contract worker resident at Periyapillayarmedu, Karaikadu Post, Cuddalore - was exposed to concentrated sulphuric acid while cleaning a valve in an acid tank in TANFAC, SIPCOT Cuddalore. After being hospitalized for nearly 20 days, Radhakrishnan succumbed to the exposure on 30th April 2004.
The exposure and subsequent death, which was a result of negligence on part of TANFAC, was not reported by the company or the labour contractor to the Factories Inspector as was required by law.
Despite the filing of a First Information Report on the day of the death by R. Anjalai, --wife of the deceased -- action by the authorities has been too little and too late. Anjalai's requests for interim relief from the Public Liabilities Insurance held by the District Collector have also been ignored.
Radhakrishnan was an agricultural labour. He also used to work in the SIPCOT industries as contract worker during the slack season. On 9 April, 2004, Natarajan (Chinnapaliyarmedu village, Karaikadu post, Cuddalore) a labour contractor for TANFAC, offered Radhakrishnan work at the company. According to Radhakrishnan's brother, Murugan (who is a supervisor in the same factory) no job description was given to Radhakrishnan, all that was mentioned to him was that he was expected to work really hard.
Radhakrishna joined the company on 9th April 2004, and was assigned the job of cleaning the acid tank in the factory. He was not given any job training. Neither was he briefed about the precautionary measures to be taken while performing his job or in the event of an emergency. He was not given protective equipment (like boots and mask) required for the task. Such negligent practices are routine, according to people interviewed by the Community Environmental Monitoring program.
On 11 April, Radhakrishnan was cleaning the sludge form the tank from inside while four of his co-workers were standing outside. The valve of the acid pipe is supposed to be closed while the tank is being cleaned, on this day while he was engaged in this exercise, the valve was open so concentrated sulphuric acid released from the main tank started flowing into the pipes. As a result, he was exposed to acid fumes from the pipe. No first aid was administered to him. According to Radhkrishnan's wife Anjalai, the accident took place between 11 and 12 in the morning, after the accident Radhakrishnan fainted; thereafter he was given some water and sent back inside the tank to continue with the work. He finished his shift at about five in the evening and went home.
Radhakrishnan started experiencing the first symptoms of exposure in the evening in the form of chest pains and breathlessness. By midnight, the pain was unbearable and he had lost his ability to speak, and he was admitted to the Cuddalore General Hospital for treatment. At this point no FIR was filed against the company or the contractor.
On 12th April, 2004, Radhakrishnan was transferred from the CGH to Kannan Hospital, a private hospital in Cuddalore, upon the advice of the labour contractor. The labour contractor also paid about Rs. 10,000 in hospital bills for Radhakrishnan.
On 22nd April, 2004, Radhakrishnan was transferred to JIPMER Hospital, Pondicherry, and underwent treatment there for eight days. The reason mentioned in the referral report of Kannan hospital (dated 22-04-04, I.P. No: 8297) is "on request", Anjalai mentions that he was transferred as his situation did not improve and the doctors at Kannan hospital advised that the treatment from renowned hospital like JIPMER would help.
On 30 April, 2004, he died.
His post mortem report mentions that he died of chemical pneumoniatis and Acute Respiratory Distress Syndrome (ARDS). The post mortem report no - 148/ 2004 was prepared by Dr. MJE Ambrose, Medical Officer, Dept. of Forensic Medicine JIPMER on 30.04.04. A related chemical analysis report confirms exposure to concentrated sulphuric acid fumes and identifies it as the cause of death. R N Biswas, a senior public health analyst and chemical examiner of Public Health Laboratory of Pondycherry prepared the Chemical analysis report. This report (no: FSV 255) "shows the positive test for the presence of corrosive acid such as Sulphuric acid".
On the same day, Radhakrishnan's wife R. Anjalai filed an FIR at the Cuddalore OT police station (FIR No: 384/ 2004) mentioning the details about the accident in the report. It was confirmed that Tanfac did not report the accident of 10 April, 2004, either to the police or to the Factories Inspectorate.
Upon receiving no support from either the company or the district authorities, Community Environmental Monitors from Semmankuppam village took up the issue. On 17th May, 2004, a complaint was filed by FEDCOT a local NGO, with the Factories Inspectorate against the company for not reporting the accident to the higher authorities and thereby evading the responsibility of liabilities arising from the accident.
A team of the Factories Inspectorate visited the unit on 16 June, 2004, to investigate the accident and the death of the worker. Later in one of our follow up meetings with the local factory inspector we were told that the company denied that the accident had taken place. The factory inspector also informed us that the workers present at the time of the accident confirmed to the enquiry team that Radhakrishnan had indeed been exposed.
Based on the report of the enquiry team, on 21 June 2004, the Factories Inspectorate issued a show-cause notice to TANFAC, asking the company to respond within 7 days.
According to TANFAC workers, the company has responded to the notice by withholding payments due to the labour contractor. The contractor, in turn, has threatened Anjalai and has asked her to return the Rs. 10,000 he gave her for Radhakrishnan's initial treatment.
A team, including Community Environmental Monitors, representatives of local NGO FEDCOT and Anjalai, met the District Collector on the 1st of July 2004 and submitted a written appeal for - interim compensation and a complete investigation of the matter.