(Image Courtsey: Hindustan Times)
“It felt like somebody had filled our bodies up with red chillies, tears coming out of our eyes, our noses were watering, we had froth in our mouths. The coughing was so bad that people were writhing in pain. Some people just got up and ran in whatever they were wearing, even if they were wearing nothing at all. People were only concerned about how they would save their lives. They just ran. Those who fell were not picked up by anybody, they just kept falling, and were trampled on by other people. People climbed and scrambled over each other to save their lives – even cows were running and trying to save their lives and crushing people as they ran.”
- Champa Devi Shukla, a survivor of the 1984‘s devastating Bhopal Gas Tragedy, narrates true accounts of the horrific night
Bhopal: The Colossal Gas Chamber
The dreaded night of December 3rd, 1984, continues to haunt the city of Bhopal, India. Over 10000 or more deaths and 558000+ partial and permanently disabling injuries. What started off as a chemical gas leak at the Union Carbide (UCIL) pesticide plant in Bhopal, spread so rapidly that the entire city turned into a gas chamber. Gaseous clouds of Methyl Isocyanate, the leaked gas, along with chloroform and other compounds, left people to writhe in pain. Streets were flooded with human and animal dead bodies. Even the leaves turned black. The long-term health effects were so catastrophic that the future generations of the survivors were born with poisoned genes and congenital malformations. Needless to mention the plight of cancers, resettlements, financial hardships, and the endless fight for justice. So what led to this drastic disaster? Weren’t safety measures in place at the site of leakage? Let’s find out.
How Bhopal made the world realise the need for EHS?
"Those who lived are the unlucky ones - Lucky ones are those who died that night.", says Rashida Bee, the survivor who lost five gas-exposed family members to cancer.
Indeed a nerve-chilling statement! The Atlantic called this incident the "world's worst industrial disaster" in 2018. Official and independent inquiries point towards underinvestment in safety measures, the inadequacy of backup systems, and lack of safety audits as the primary reasons behind the tragedy.
The world has frequently witnessed industrial disasters since the 19th century, and the incidents have had a tenfold increase during the following years. Be it 1911's Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire at New York or the Fukushima Nuclear Disaster in 2011. And how can one forget the wounds of Chernobyl? But Bhopal and the Seveso disaster pushed the chemical industry to formally lay down the EHS (Environment, Health, and Safety) management approach for the first time in 1985. EHS was intended at preventing future industrial hazards and effective implementation of safety-related policies. It accounted for both Environmental protection and Safety at the workplace. Gradually during the 1990s, other industries and organisations in general also started adopting the EHS approach.
Breaking Down the EHS Components: Environment, Health, and Safety
Environment: Environmentally, EHS tries to enforce regulatory safeguards that keep in check industrial wastes, carbon emissions, oil spills, and all such activities that pose a threat to the environment. It is to be noted that, unlike Humans, our environment undergoes a slow and continuous process that ultimately results in a dreadful menace. Also, such incidents may happen even without directly affecting the Humans in and around the place of the disaster. Hence, adherence to environmental laws and regulations remains a top priority for EHS managers.
Health: Bhopal Gas Tragedy proves that the disastrous consequences of a catastrophe affect even the future generations of the victims. Remember the dead cows and black leaves? Hence, the health and well-being of all the surrounding living beings have to be prioritised over everything else by EHS professionals.
Safety: Safety at the workplace consists of Hazard Avoidance procedures and practices that aim at stopping the undesirables in the first place. It involves periodic equipment checkups, safety audits, disaster preparedness, mock drills, and training of the personnel in action during hazards. Significant attention is also paid to post-disaster policies that deal with compensation, relief, and rehabilitation.
Over time, various organisations have used different combinations of the three letters E, H, and S, which has led to other acronyms such as SHE, SEH, HSE. Some institutes even add Q(Quality) to the existing acronym implying the importance of Quality Assurance. But all of them essentially mean the same and need not be worried about.
Why is EHS way more than just for the industries?
Workplace hazards are not always factory-centric. Industrial and construction-related havocs make it more to the headlines because of their capacity to cause hazards of greater magnitude. But that shouldn't make us complacent to think that disasters don't occur in Office-based setups. Statistically, slipping, tripping, and falling on the same level remain by far the biggest threat to office-based workers. Back and neck strain, vision defects, stress account for the most often ignored office hazards. Thus, a wellness-centred EHS approach makes provisions for all those office-based risks that are way more than just physical injuries and temporary illnesses.
EHS for the Coming Times: Prospects and Careers
Looking back at the irretrievable damage caused by past disasters, it becomes crystal clear that the world cannot afford another Bhopal, Chernobyl, or Fukushima. Thus, EHS policies must be followed in and outside our factories, offices, and other habitats. Strict compliance to the governmental laws in place while simultaneously working over the collection and analysis of safety-related data has to be given due importance. There's also a need for international standardisation of a regulatory framework that can bring about coherent safety practices.
EHS, being an all-encompassing discipline, holds significance for Occupational, Environmental, Constructional, and Community health and safety. Challenges and opportunities have increased manifold in a seemingly interconnected world spurred by vast technological advancements. Our workplaces have changed. So does our workforce. This has opened a gateway for tomorrow's EHS professionals to explore multiple career pathways landing in industries, organisations, and governmental departments.
Some common positions among the EHS professionals include EHS Manager, EHS Consultant, Safety Officer, Air Quality Specialist, Industrial Hygienist, Public Health Consultant, Water Treatment Specialist, and Chemical Materials Coordinator.
UniAthena’s Diploma in EHS: Effortless Upskilling
Tomorrow's EHS professionals need to be one step ahead of the development curve to predict and avoid impending disasters. They should possess effective communication skills, unmatched flexibility and adaptability, and sound knowledge of the legal framework. In an attempt to impart practical EHS insights to both freshers and existing professionals, UniAthena, an online higher education platform, has come up with a Diploma in Environment, Health, and Safety Management. The 22 hours course is designed to equip you with the essential critical skills, globally accepted practices, and legislations that will put you one step ahead of your competitors.
Certifications are the jewels that undoubtedly polish your Portfolios and Resumes. The course mentioned above is prepared by leading industry experts and is completely online. It is delivered through a series of pre-recorded video lectures that also contain e-Notes and Graded Assessment Quizzes. Post course completion, you will be awarded an all-new Blockchain verified certificate, which comes with a flat 50% discount. You can apply for the certification course here.