The Inter-Ministerial and Agency Investigative Committee investigating the recent fire incident at the Sime Darby Plantation in Bomi County has submitted its findings and recommendations.
Members of this Investigative Committee include the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the Liberia National Fire Service and the Ministry of Labour – Chair.
On the morning of September 20, 2015, a fire incidence occurred at one of the chemical storage facilities within the Sime Darby Plantation and gutted the storage. Preliminary investigation showed that no death occurred; however, ten (10) volunteer-firefighters who helped in the fight to extinguish the fire were affected by heat exhaustion mostly.
Immediately upon receiving the news of the incident, an Inter-Ministerial/Agency Investigative Committee was dispatched to the plantation where the Team held discussions with both management and workers’ representatives.
During the tour of the facilities and its surrounding areas, the Team established that the warehouse storing the chemicals was destroyed by the fire and that remnants of the burnt chemicals were a major source of an offensive odor. Given this toxic odor, the management issued nose masks to workers, students as well as visitors to avoid the toxic (chemicals) smell being released into the environment in the aftermath of the explosion.
The cause of the fire was traced to an electrical shock which overheated different chemicals that were stored in varying concentration and under the abnormal temperature of each chemical.
The team further observed that due to the lack of trained firefighters, firefighting equipment and logistics, the fire was not extinguished in time thereby causing a huge loss to the investment.
Upon completion of its investigation, the Committee made the following recommendations
1) That Sime Darby Plantation as a company thoroughly cleanup and properly dispose of the chemical debris at its own cost on Environmental Protection Agency, (EPA) instruction;
2) That Sime Darby should not dispose the debris of burnt materials without permit from the Environmental Protection Agency, (EPA);
3) That Sime Darby desist from spraying herbicides during the raining season;
4) That Angel Garlo who was severely injured in both eyes while fighting the fire with an extinguisher during the incident is sent for advance medical treatment abroad and all other victims who were discharged be monitored and treated;
5) That the Company applies to the Environmental Protection Agency, (EPA) for permit for importing, handling and storing chemicals;
6) That Sime Darby’s Occupational Health and Safety (OHS) regime is strengthened for the protection of employees;
7) That Sime Darby procures and maintains the requisite Firefighting equipment and recruit, train and maintain fire warden as well as the establishment of a Fire Department as was previously recommended from the Liberia National Fire Service, and
8) That a mobile clinic be established and maintained over a period of three months in nearby towns and villages to respond to any possible case from the fire incidence.
Accordingly, and in a bid to ensure full compliance of the above recommendations, Sime Darby Plantation has been requested to liaise with the Government through its technicians comprising the Ministry of Labour, the Environmental Protection Agency, EPA and the Liberia National Fire Service, LNFS, (Joint Inter-Ministerial Committee) for gradual implementation.
Meanwhile, the Joint Inter-Ministerial Committee has expressed gratitude to the workers, workers’ union and the Management of Sime Darby for their collaboration during the investigation and at the same time assured them that as Government endeavors to promote a dignified and conducive working environment, the issue of Occupational Health and Safety would at all times be guaranteed for all employees.