A Corporation’s Decision to Skimp on Safety Got Thousands Killed
Union Carbide also cut corners in the maintenance of the MIC storage tanks and pipes at the Bhopal plant. Over the years, there were numerous leaks that killed and injured dozens of workers. By early December, 1984, the plant was a disaster waiting to happen. One of three MIC storage tanks was out of commission, pipes and valves were corroded, most safety systems were out of order, and special vents to scrub poison gasses were inoperative. In 1981, Indian journalist Rajkumar Keswani began to examine the safety protocols and procedures at the plant after a friend died there in an industrial accident.
Aided by whistle blowers, Keswani examined that and earlier mishaps, and discovered that things horrifically bad. There had been repeated screw-ups in which only dumb luck averted disaster. In one incident, a gas leak forced thousands of nearby residents to flee their homes in fear. Union Carbide’s Indian manager sought better pipe coating from the parent company in America. In one of the more callous replies in corporate history, he was told that it would be too expensive.