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3-member panel to probe gas leak at Dr Reddy's

By B Krishna Mohan
December 24, 2010 15:43 IST
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A three-member committee, comprising two officials from the Director of Factories and one pharma expert, will probe the gas leak at a production unit of Dr Reddy's Laboratories (DRL).

The Director of Factories will appoint a pharma domain expert soon. "A domain expert is needed to verify the various pharma-related processes where nitrogen is used," a state government official said.

A chemist and a contract worker died Tuesday night following the gas leak at the US Food and Drug Administration-approved plant at Bollaram that produces active pharmaceutical ingredients.

The company has restricted access to the 'clean room' in Unit-III of its Bollaram facility where the accident occurred.

The nitrogen gas leak could well be a wake up call for the pharma industry to update their worker safety mechanism. According to the official, it is for the first time that such an accident has happened at a pharma unit involving nitrogen.

"The nitrogen leak is unique. It might require the industry to review their processes, handling and storage to avert similar accidents in future," he said. "Prima facie, it looks the death of the two persons was caused due to asphyxiation after nitrogen spilled."

The team would study whether the company adhered to safety standards. The report would be ready in about a week. Based on the report, the Director of Factories will issue a notice to DRL identifying the lacunae, if any.

The company should follow the recommendations to enhance the safety standards given by the Director of Factories that would be followed by periodic check-up by the government.

The Factories Act (Section 104 A) puts the onus on the person (or the company) to prove that all practicable measures were taken. If found guilty, the punishment could be imprisonment for a term that might extend to two years or a fine of Rs 1,00,000 or both.

This apart, the Drugs Control Administration (Hyderabad) and the state police have launched their investigation. The company, too, is doing a parallel internal probe.

According to Bulk Drug Manufacturers' Association past president Narayana Reddy, pharma companies use nitrogen to ensure that there are no fire mishaps.

"Pharma companies keep a nitrogen blanket where there is a possibility of sparks flying due to chemical reaction. This will cut down the oxygen, which is needed for combustion. This is a no-entry zone in the companies," he said.

DRL shares today closed 0.27 per cent higher at Rs 1,682 on the Bombay Stock Exchange.


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B Krishna Mohan in Hyderabad
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