In two days time, many people across the UK will be heading outdoors to enjoy an annual festival called ‘Bonfire Night’, which celebrates the failed attempt by Guy Fawkes and others to blow up the Houses of Parliament in 1605.
It is a nervous time, leading up to, and on the night for the rescue services with fireworks used widely. Accidents inevitably happen.
In the chemical and process industries, the fireworks industry is one of the most hazardous to work in.
In 2013, there were eight reported accidents in firework factories worldwide including China (3), India (2), Italy, Canada and Vietnam killing at least 48 people and injuring over a hundred.
The worst incident in Northern Vietnam’s Phú Tho Province killed 26 people and damaged an estimated 1,300 households in a three kilometre blast radius.
There’s an environmental dimension too. Studies have shown that fireworks displays at festivals like Diwali can increase air pollutants by nearly six times and the Lantern Festival in China by a similar level.
Another study in Eastern Spain (mascletàs) has recorded increases of firework generated fine particle pollutants in excess of 100 times normal levels.
These are issues that IChemE has helped to highlight and the solutions being worked on by chemical engineers.
And there is some more encouraging news. We know India’s Government are looking to improve safety and there are efforts to establish a Fireworks Research & Development Centre.
There was also a story recently in the Times of India called ‘GenNext of fireworks business believes in doing it the scientific way’.
Importantly, some chemical engineers are leading this improvement – for safety and commercial reasons – and there’s a distinct move towards professionalism in the industry, in contrast to the more traditional family-based business approach of handing down knowledge through generations.
In the article, G Abiruben, president of Tamil Nadu Fireworks and Amorces Manufacturers Association, said: “More third-generation scions with training in analytical chemistry and chemical engineering have been entering the industry.
One of the new generation of engineers is 29-year-old Deepak Amarnath.
Deepak says: “My dad knew of people who had an edge as they studied chemical engineering before taking over the business, so he encouraged me to do the same.”
He went to Chennai’s Sri Venkateswara College of Engineering and has used this knowledge in the family’s business, including trying to establish an R&D lab, but has struggled to find trained technicians.
Deepak continued: “I understood the importance of testing for purity when purchasing chemicals. Several accidents might have occurred because of impurities. I insisted on sending samples to a chemical testing lab.”
“My education has taught me methods and systems to minimize the accident rate,” says Deepak.
“Sadly, we don’t even have an R&D centre devoted to fireworks in India… and one person alone can’t change the industry.”
However, reading the Times of India article it is clear that Deepak and others want to prioritise safety first before developing new products, and invest in research and development.
I hope this blog encourages Deepak and others to commit to improving process safety in the fireworks industry in India and across across the world.
The Fifth of November
The fifth of November,
The Gunpowder treason and plot;
I know of no reason
Why the Gunpowder treason
Should ever be forgot!
Guy Fawkes and his companions
Did the scheme contrive,
To blow the King and Parliament
All up alive.
Threescore barrels, laid below,
To prove old England’s overthrow.
But, by God’s providence, him they catch,
With a dark lantern, lighting a match!
A stick and a stake
For King James’s sake!
If you won’t give me one,
I’ll take two,
The better for me,
And the worse for you.
A rope, a rope, to hang the Pope,
A penn’orth of cheese to choke him,
A pint of beer to wash it down,
And a jolly good fire to burn him.
Holloa, boys! holloa, boys! make the bells ring!
Holloa, boys! holloa boys! God save the King!
Hip, hip, hooor-r-r-ray!