The Centre has issued detailed guidelines on Saturday for restarting industries after the Coronavirus lockdown and the needed precautions to be taken for the safety of the plants as well as the workers, in the wake of the gas leak at a chemical plant in Andhra Pradesh’s Visakhapatnam  which killed 11 people and affected at least 1,000.

In a communication to all states and union territories, the the National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) said due to several weeks of lockdown and the closure of industrial units, it is possible that some of the operators might not have followed the established standard operating procedures. As a result, some of the manufacturing facilities, pipelines, valves may have residual chemicals, which may pose risk. The same is true for the storage facilities with hazardous chemicals and flammable materials.

According to the NDMA guidelines, while restarting a unit, the first week should be considered as the trial or test run period after ensuring all safety protocols.

Companies should not try to achieve high production targets. There should be 24-hour sanitisation of the factory premises, it said.

The factories need to maintain a sanitisation routine every two-three hours especially in the common areas that include lunch rooms and common tables which will have to be wiped clean with disinfectants after every single use, it added.

For accommodation, the NDMA said, sanitisation needs to be performed regularly to ensure worker safety and reduce the spread of contamination.

To minimise the risk, it is important that employees who work on specific equipment are sensitised and made aware of the need to identify abnormalities like strange sounds or smell, exposed wires, vibrations, leaks, smoke, abnormal wobbling, irregular grinding or other potentially hazardous signs which indicate the need for immediate maintenance or if required shutdown, it said.

On Thursday, a gas identified as Styrene got leaked from the plant of LG Polymers India Pvt Ltd in Venkatapuram at around 3:30 am, killing 11 people including a child.

The incident took place after it restarted operations when the government allowed industrial activities in certain sectors following several weeks of lockdown.

People in five surrounding villages, in a three km radius were reported to have got sick after inhaling the gas.

Around 800 persons were initially rushed for treatment to various hospitals after complaining of breathing difficulties, and burning sensation in the eyes. Currently, over 240 people with health complications are undergoing treatment at the King George Hospital, Visakhapatnam and 20 of them are on ventilator support.

The plant makes polystyrene, a versatile plastic used in fiberglass, rubber and latex and for making toys and appliances among other things. Set up in 1961 as Hindustan Polymers, the company was taken over by South Korea’s LG Chem and renamed LG Polymers India in 1997.

Meanwhile, The National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) has declared the incident as a “chemical disaster”.

A nationwide lockdown was announced by the Centre on March 24 for 21 days in a bid to curtail the spread of Coronavirus pandemic. It was further extended till May 3 and again till May 17 with some ease in restrictions in some zones less  affected by Coronavirus.