New Delhi: At least four technicians died of asphyxiation after reportedly inhaling methane gas during "maintenance work" at a car factory of automobile giant Hyundai Motors.
The incident occurred near a sewage tank in the factory located in Irrungatukottai, 40 km from Chennai. This accident has brought into focus safety concerns of employees working in hazardous environments.
The deceased were identified Maran (32) from Chennai, an electrician Mohan Inconi (25) and two labourers, Muthu (37) and Series Karate (22).
Mohan and Series Karate hailed from Pune in Maharashtra, while Muthu hailed from Kallakurichi in Villupuram district
Mallika Muthu’s family was dependent on her husband Muthu's income. But Muthu was one of the 4 Thermax employees who died after inhaling poisonous gases at Hyundai's water treatment plant.
"I have six children. Now my husband's gone and with my children, life is going to get very difficult,” says Mallika Muthu, wife of victim.
An eyewitness to the incident said that the 4 were checking on a motor 3 metres underground, when they suffocated to death.
"The engineer got down to repair the motor. He came up and slipped back before my eyes. Four others went to help. They too fell in. Three of them died and one is in hospital now. Yes, they wore masks and went in,” says KT Mohammad, eyewitness and Thermax employee.
And if these employees were wearing safety masks, why did they die? Was the safety equipment tested and was it up to standard? And more importantly, were these masks adequate to protect employees from the kinds of poisons they're exposed to as part of their daily jobs.
Hyundai as well as Thermax officials say that all proper precautions were followed.
PTI reports another person Santosh who looked ill, was rushed to a private hospital in Chennai and his condition was stated to be out of danger.
The Pune victims were trained technicians from Thermax - the company that's constructing a water tanker inside the factory - and the company has announced Rs 2 lakhs as compensation for the deceased.
Hyundai Motors has also announced an equal amount for the victims' families.
PTI reports the incident occurred at the second stage plant when the five contract employees were attempting to clean up the sewage tank, which was used to store wastes of paints and other chemical materials, the officials said.
Initial reports said there was a fire accident in the plant, but later the fire service clarified that it was an incident of asphyxiation.
Fire service officials attributed the mishap to "neglect" in undertaking maintenance work.