Horana factory tragedy: Lab controller arrested | Sunday Observer

Horana factory tragedy: Lab controller arrested

The senior Laboratory Controller of the Horana Rubber Factory where five deaths were reported this week due to ammonia gas poisoning was arrested by the police yesterday.

According to Police, the 42-year-old female laboratory controller will be produced before the Horana Magistrate today.

Meanwhile, the funerals of four victims were held yesterday in Uggalboda, Kalutara and Bellapitiya, Horana. According to sources, residents also staged a protest as the funeral procession passed the factory where the incident occurred creating a tense situation. During the protest, the residents called for the factory to be closed down. The funeral of the final victim will be held today.

Nineteen others who were exposed to the ammonia gas in the incident continue to receive treatment at the Horana Base Hospital. According to hospital sources, two persons are receiving treatment in the Intensive Care Unit (ICU) where one of them remains in critical condition.

The Department of Labour has launched an investigation into the Industrial

accident which took place at the rubber factory in Bellapitiya, Horana on Thursday.

Exposure to ammonia, an essential ingredient in the production of centrifuged natural rubber, is assumed to be the cause of death. Reports from the Judicial Medical Officer’s (JMO) and the Government Analyst is yet to be produced.

The Central Environment Authority (CEA) has also temporarily suspended the license of the rubber factory following the incident.

Multiple deaths at the latex factory could have been avoided if there had been a proper warning system, claim residents of Ballapitiya, Horana.

“Even after the accident where two of the staff had fallen into the tank, they did not warn anyone of the danger in that area. Instead they shouted for help,” they said. The resident passers-by who had been drawn to the factory premises by the pleas of workers crying for help to bring up the two people who had fallen into the tank, themselves became victims of the noxious gas, they said.

According to the Police, the Factory Manager who was arrested on the grounds of negligence was produced before Horana Acting Magistrate Kanthi Kannangara on Friday, and remanded till April 25. The incident had happened between 1.00 and 1.30 p.m. on Thursday (19) when a minor employee had been sent to repair a technical fault, they said.

According to eye-witnesses the worker had been sent to close a valve that was set within the tank, as there had been complaints from an adjoining garment factory, of foul smells from the latex factory premises. Four others who attempted to rescue the worker; one factory staff member and three residents of the area also died inhaling the toxic fumes.

Horana Base Hospital Superintendent Thamara Kalubowila said that 38 people were treated at the hospital on Thursday, April 19.

Dr. Erandi Kularathna, Medical Officer of Health (MOH), Madurawala, Horana speaking of the incident commented that it is imperative for the workers as well as the management to ensure that protective measures are taken before attending to such work, where hazardous material is involved. “Nobody had used protective measures here, neither the staff nor the residents of the area. People must first think of their safety when rescuing another,” she said.

Meanwhile, Director National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health

(NIOSH), Dr. Champika Amarasinghe reiterated the need to employ proper health and safety management systems and environment management systems in workplaces. In the case of the Horana rubber factory, the working was not conducive and workers were unaware of health and safety standards, she said. 

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