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Number of Fire Accidents in the country reduced over time, Deaths still above 10,000 a year

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The fire accident at Serum Institute of India caught the media & public attention as SII is playing a significant role in the manufacture of COVID-19 vaccines. Data available with the NCRB indicates that the number of fire accidents in the country reduced by over 40% between 2015 & 2019. The number of deaths per year is still above 10,000

Recently, there was a fire accident in Serum Institute of India’s (SII) facility in Pune which claimed 5 lives. With SII being the world’s largest vaccine manufacturer & a key manufacturer of the COVID-19 vaccine, the mishap has caught media and public interest. 

The building which caught fire is claimed to be under construction. The CEO of SII stated that this fire accident would not have any impact on COVID-19 Vaccine production. 

There has been another incident of a fire accident reported this month in a hospital in Maharashtra that claimed the lives of several infants. A few months ago, a fire break-out in the Srisailam Hydro Electric Power plant in Telangana claiming 9 lives.  Time and again, there have been various incidents of fire accidents reported across the country and in varied settings. 

In this story, we take a look at the numbers relating to the fire accidents in the country and analyse the trends. We have relied on the data provided in Accidental Deaths & Suicides in India (ADSI) reports published by National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB). 

Number of Fire Accidents & Loss of life show a declining trend over the years 

As per the ADSI-2019 report, there were 11,037 fire accidents reported across the country in 2019. The number of such reported fire accidents fell by around 16% compared to 2018. The decline was more steeped compared to the year earlier, which was around 2%. 

The data over the five-year period (2015-2019) indicates a steady year-on-year decline in the number of fire accidents reported in the country. Correspondingly, there is a decline in the number of accidental deaths due to such accidents. In 2015, there were 17,700 deaths due to fire accidents which fell consistently every year and 2019 reported only 10,915 deaths caused due to fire accidents i.e., a decline of 38% of the five-year period. 

The number of persons injured in fire accidents also more than halved with 441 injured persons in 2019 compared to 1193 in 2015. However, the least number of injured persons due to fire accidents during this period was in 2017. 

While the decline in the number of accidents due to fire along with deaths and injuries is promising, the significantly higher proportion of deaths compared to injuries is alarming. This higher mortality could indicate challenges with medical & emergency services in dealing with such mishaps, which could have helped reduce the death toll. There could also be other factors such as the severity & nature of the fire accidents for higher mortality. 

Fire accidents in Residential Buildings form the major portion such accidents

The decline in the overall number of fire accidents over the five-year period is evident across the various places of occurrence, as per the information provided in ADSI reports. 

The ADSI report categories the fire accidents by place of occurrence under 9 specific heads with the rest being recorded under “Others”. In each of these categories (barring School & Government buildings that have a lower number of fire accidents), there is a declining trend in the number of fire accidents reported. 

In 2019, out of the 11,037 Fire Accidents, a total of 6,364 accidents i.e., around 57% occurred in Residential Buildings. While the number of incidents in the residential buildings has come down over the period of time, their proportion in the overall fire accidents has seen a steady increase year-on-year. 

  • A significant decline in the number of fire accidents in Commercial Buildings, Trains & Factories that manufacture combustible materials was observed during this period.
  • A decline in numbers is also seen in accidents occurring in other Factories, Mines, and Vehicles. However, the trends fluctuate. 
  • Although the number is small, there is a comparative increase in the number of fire accidents occurring in School & Government buildings. In an answer to a question in the Lok Sabha, the government highlighted the Safety measures and guidelines for Fire-safety in Schools. 

Over the five-year period, the proportion of fire accidents in Residential buildings out of total fire accidents increased from around 40% in 2015 to 57.6% in 2019. This increase in the proportion of accidents in Residential buildings coincides with a comparative decline in the proportion of fire accidents that have reported “Other” as a place of occurrence. The proportion of fire accidents in “Other” places fell from 47.5% in 2015 to 34.3% in 2019. 

The trends observed for the number of people who have died and injured due to fire accidents in a place are similar to that of the number of incidents that occur by place.

Electrical Short Circuit & Cylinder/Stove burst are the major causes for fire accidents 

In 2019, out of the 11,037 fire accidents that were reported, the cause for more than half of them (59.8%) i.e. 6,609 is recorded under “Other”. This higher proportion of accidents recorded as due to “Other” causes is also observed in the earlier years. Although the proportion of accidents recorded as due to “Other” causes has come down from a high of 67.5% in 2015, it is still very high. 

For the incidents where the cause has been specified in the ADSI report, the highest number of fire accidents over the years is due to “Cooking Gas Cylinder/ Stove Burst”. In 2019, fire accidents due to “Electrical Short Circuit” is marginally higher than the accidents relating to Cylinder/Stove burst. Both these causes account for a significantly higher number of accidents compared to the other causes like “Fireworks” & “Riots/Agitation”. 

While the number of fire accidents attributed to these two major causes has fallen over the years, the proportion in the overall fire accidents has displayed varying trends. The share of accidents due to “Cooking Gas cylinder/Stove burst” has displayed a fluctuating trend, while that of “Electrical Short Circuit” has consistently increased YoY. 

While the “Cooking Gas/Stove burst” related incidents can be correlated with the higher number of accidents in Residential Buildings, it could also be said that the majority of fire accidents due to Electrical Short circuit have occurred in residential buildings. 

However, the higher proportion of accidents being attributed to “Others” as a cause creates a lot of scope for ambiguity regarding the cause of fire accidents. 

Significant fall in the number of Fire Accidents reported in Maharashtra

In 2015, the number of fire accidents reported in Maharashtra was 4,087 and constituted around 22% of the total accidents reported in the country. Over the ensuing years, the number of accidents reported in Maharashtra has consistently declined. Apart from this, even the proportion of accidents reported in Maharashtra out of the total in India has also seen a declining trend with only 13% of the accidents in 2019 reported from Maharashtra. 

The number of fire accidents being reported in most of the other States with a high number of accidents has also declined. Even in the case of Madhya Pradesh which has taken over Maharashtra’s position as the state with the highest number of fire accidents, the number has decreased in 2019. 

While few states have seen fluctuating trends, Gujarat & Rajasthan have reported a consistent declining trend. On the contrary, Odisha & West Bengal have reported an increase in the number of accidents during 2015-19. In the case of Odisha, the number of accidents increased from 468 to 970 and their proportion in the overall cases increased from 2.5% to 8.8% 

There is a need to improve Fire Safety standards in Residential places 

The fall in the overall number of fire accidents is a positive sign. However, it has to be noted that the data provided in the ADSI report is a collation of the inputs provided by respective states. 

Responding to a question in the Lok Sabha, the Central Government highlighted that “Fire Services” is a State subject and the primary responsibility lies with the State Governments to take the necessary steps required for the safety of life and property from fire hazards in both residential and commercial buildings. 

However, it does refer to the National Building Code, 2016 published by the Bureau of Indian Standards as well as the guidelines issued by the National Disaster Management Authority in 2012 for standardization & Revamping of Fire services in the country. 

The declining numbers observed in most of the states are an encouraging sign of the efforts put in by the respective states. This improvement is more noticeable in the case of commercial buildings, wherein the number of reported accidents halved over the five-year period (2015-19), so is the case with the Factories that manufacture Combustible products. However, this improving trend seen in the commercial space is not visible for residential buildings. 

The significantly higher number of incidents caused due to electrical short circuits are avoidable provided the regulations are in place and strictly implemented. The higher deaths due to “Gas Cylinder/stove burst” can be attributed to the challenges in ensuring fire-safety measures. Numbers also indicate that the number of women victims is comparatively higher, further highlighting the risk at residential places and their exposure to the same. 

As pointed out earlier in the story, the high mortality in fire accidents also raises apprehensions on the timely availability of medical emergency services. Citing Global Diseases Burden report published in the BMJ Injury Prevention Journal, a news report claims that India recorded around 27 thousand of the 1.2 lakh deaths reported globally in 2017 due to fire accidents. This is a staggering 22.5% of the global total. As per this report, India accounts for 17% of the Global fire accidents. Though the numbers are declining over the years in India, there is a need to step up efforts to ensure the regulations are scrupulously followed. 

Featured Image: Fire Accidents in India

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