In the management of occupational health and safety, incidents are placed in different categories. These categories are used to depict the actual and potential seriousness of these incidents. “Dangerous occurrences” is one of such categories. In some countries, there are laws that clearly define what dangerous occurrences are, the specific incidents that qualify as dangerous occurrences and requirements for the reporting and recording of such dangerous occurrences. The International Labour Organisation (ILO) has published a code of practice – Recording and Notification of Occupational Accidents and Diseases, which has requirements for incidents – including dangerous occurrences to be reported to competent authorities and subsequently investigated. One of the reasons for the notification of incidents is for prevention of future incidents.

There have been cases of dangerous occurrences (fires, explosions, toxic/flammable gas release) in public places that had the potential for multiple deaths and serious destruction to property and the environment.

The peculiar thing about dangerous occurrences is that while they may not always lead to human loss, they are usually high risk incidents, to which very good attention has to be paid to prevent them from happening in the present and in the future.

Dangerous occurrences happen in the workplace and/or in public places. They could prove to be of higher severity when they happen in public places, due to the number of people who could be exposed.  Other possible dangerous occurrences in public places include incidents such as scaffold collapse, lifting equipment (e.g. crane) collapse or failure, toxic gas release, structure collapse.

Cases of Dangerous Occurrences

A number of incidents that qualify as dangerous occurrences have been recorded in Nigeria over time. Possible sources of dangerous occurrences in public places of focus are the pipelines that traverse various parts of Nigeria, some passing through places where there is usually the presence of a huge number of people.

An incident occurred 16th of December, 2020. A gas pipeline along Lagos-Ibadan (Nigeria) express road got ruptured, due to construction work activities going on along that road. The rupture caused flammable gas to escape. It was only a matter of luck that the gas that escaped did not get to a source of ignition, which could have resulted in an explosion. Had an explosion occurred, there would have been unpredictable losses – human injury/death, fire, damage to public and private property.

Luck does not prevent accidents. An accident that did not (LUCKILY) happen, if steps are not taken to correct the situation(s) that led to it, may happen again or somewhere else, with more serious consequences. Quite a number of dangerous occurrences and accidents have happened in public places in Nigeria, without adequate measures to prevent recurrence, as these incidents continue to happen, sometimes with multiple loss of lives.

A similar incident to the Lagos-Ibadan express road gas pipeline rupture and gas leak occurred in Abule Ado, Lagos, Nigeria. This time, we were not so lucky, as a massive explosion resulted, with multiple human deaths and damage to property.

Existing Risk

The pipeline that ruptured along Lagos – Ibadan express road runs along the express road, passing through some public places. One of such public places where this pipeline passes is the popular prayer city of the Mountain of Fire Ministries, where thousands of people regularly gather for worship. Very conspicuous at the entrance to the prayer city is a notice of the presence of the pressurised gas pipeline and warnings of activities that should be avoided to prevent a dangerous occurrence or an explosion that could result to multiple fatalities.

No doubt, the risk is extremely high, considering the presence of the pipeline, possible activities that could impact the pipeline, the type and severity of incident that could occur and the number of people who come in close proximity to the pipeline.

Solutions are required to minimise this risk to a tolerable level, some of which are in place, an example is the signage put up by the owners and operators of the pipeline and its associated facilities.

Further Public Awareness/Engagement of Stakeholders

To prevent future occurrence of the type of incident that happened on the 16th of December, 2020, operators of the pipeline need to create more awareness on the presence of the pipeline, making use of social media and other mass media to educate members of the public of the risk.

Leaders of all those who could be affected if an incident were to occur should be regularly engaged on plans that are in place for incident prevention and use them as an avenue for creating further awareness. Good enough, the Nigerian Gas Marketing Company has erected a notice in front of the MFM prayer city where their high-pressure gas pipeline passes, however, this notice does not specifically state numbers to be contacted in a case of an emergency.

Facility Inspection and Maintenance

Using oil and gas pipelines as case study, the safety of these pipelines, the communities and people in close proximity of the pipelines can be ensured through adequate inspections and maintenance of these pipelines. All across the world, there are regulatory requirements for periodic maintenance of pipelines and in Nigeria, the DPR (Department of Petroleum Resources) as the regulator of the oil and gas sector has the responsibility for ensuring that regulations on pipelines inspections and maintenance are well implemented and adhered to by all responsible parties.

There are usually frequencies to these inspections and maintenance regimes, for example internal conditions of pipelines can be inspected once a year[1] and there are various technologies (e.g. the use of smart pigs)[2] and operational parameters such as pressure, flow, that can be used for inspections and maintenance decisions.    

Incident Investigation
In order to prevent dangerous occurrences from being repeated, it is necessary to have an institutionalised system for thorough investigation of these incidents. There should equally be collation and analysis of incident data, in order for adequate learning of lessons and prevention of future occurrences. Proactive steps should always be taken by all responsible parties to prevent incidents of catastrophic proportion which could result from dangerous occurrences.        

References
1 – Researchgate.net [Inspection and maintenance of oil & gas pipelines: a review of policies]

2 – API | Pipeline Safety
Written by: Isaac Ojo Ogboadayegbe, Operations Coordinator at Hybrid Group Limited