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On 4th of August 2020, two explosions occurred at the port of the city of Beirut. Beirut is the capital and largest city of Lebanon. The second explosion was extremely powerful; leading to approximately; 220 deaths, 6,000
injuries, $15 billion in property damage and left about 300,000 people homeless.
Cause of fire
The cause of the blast is believed to have been unsafely stored ammonium nitrate in one of the warehouses at the port. Ammonium nitrate is a crystal-white solid that is commonly used as a nitrogen source for agricultural
fertilizers. It has also been used by militants in the past to create bombs. Mining and construction industries also use it to create explosives when combined with fuel oils.
The explosion was triggered by fire from welding works that were taking place on the door of an adjacent warehouse to that storing the ammonium nitrate.
Effects of the explosion
The explosion has led to the death of at least 220 people while over 6,000 people were injured as well. Many others have been reported missing and the death toll continues to rise. It also led to the displacement of over 300,000 people from their homes as homes as far as a 10km radius from the blast site. Several businesses have also suffered as a result of this explosion in an economy already suffering from the effects of a recession.
The second largest grain elevator in the city was destroyed during the explosion destroying over 15,000 tons of grain reserves. This has led to an acute food shortage, with some estimates predicting the country has less than two month of food reserves remaining.
The destruction caused by the blast will likely cost of $15 billion. Three hospitals were destroyed and two more suffered damage.
Sources also indicate that over 90% of hotels in the city were also destroyed. How it could have been mitigated from a fire safety prospective, one must always access the risks one might face before doing any job and take measures to mitigate any of these risks. It all boils down to how the job was carried out. From the person who ordered the job to the person who was in the ground doing the work. A job and risk assessment forms are very important however small the job to be done is, as it could lead to a chain reaction that is disastrous and costly. The job has to be carried out in the safest possible way however much it may cost as it may lead to damages that could have been avoided and more costly than the measures to eradicate or mitigate the risks in the first place.

Some of the questions that have baffled the local and international occupational health and safety communities are:

  • Where were the safety officials before the commencement of the job?
  • Were the risks associated with the task tackled well?
  • Were the safety measures put in place to avoid any incident from happening?

It is evident from the resulting blast that the fire and safety officials failed by allowing works to be undertaken without putting in place proper measures to mitigate the risk. Investigation and reports have indicated that the ammonium nitrate had been stored at the port since 2013. Proper storage plans for such a high-risk substance should have been implemented. This fact brings takes us back to the safety officials who allowed the substance to be stored unsafely putting people’s lives at stake. In safety and security the small considerations and planning make a very big difference and could have saved many lives and billions in damages.

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