Expatica news

Gas blast site chief ‘ignoreddamaged pipeline warning’

12 April 2005

BRUSSELS – The manager of the building site that was destroyed by a fatal gas explosion in the Belgian town of Ghislenghien last July was warned of damage to the pipeline that caused the blast days before the tragedy, it has been reported.

The revelation emerged during an inquiry in Tournai into the gas blast last July that left 24 people dead and injured a further 132, 62 of them seriously, La Derniere Heure reported.

A building site worker at the plant said he warned his boss that he had damaged a gas pipe when digging up the land.

But, said the worker, his boss decided to take no further action.

The site manager denies he was informed of the damage, but if the worker’s version of events is verified, the construction company is set to be accused of putting profits before safety, La Derniere Heure wrote.

The newspaper added that a simple phone call to Belgian gas distributor Fluxys, which owned the damaged pipe, could have averted the tragedy.

Problems began at the Ghislenghien building site when work done by the construction company, which was building a car park, brought gas pipes closer to the surface than was legally allowed.

When Fluxys laid the pipes in 1992, they lay 1.20 m below the ground, much deeper than the 80 cm legal limit.

However, building work done at the site lowered the ground level by 50 cm in total.

The inquiry has so far revealed that the construction company did not take the necessary security measures to ensure gas pipes were not damaged during building work.

Further lessons have been learned from the Ghislenghien disaster by the Belgian fire brigade.

The fire service now faces new obligations to respond to urgent calls within 12 minutes, meaning new fire brigade zones will have to be created.

The zones will mirror existing ones for the police, abandonning the current system of fire brigade communes.

The changes were suggested by a committee of inquiry instigated by Interior Minister Patrick Dewael in the aftermath of the gas explosion.

According to Guy Van de Gaer, director of the Flemish fire brigade, the 12 minute rule is only a recommendation.

Some of the country’s fire services can only respond within 25 minutes, he said.

The Flemish fire brigade has also been hampered by the fact that 7,000 of its 12,000 officers are volunteers and cannot abandon their workplace immediately in an emergency.

[Copyright Expatica 2005]

Subject: Belgian news