The blast at a Turkish restaurant in Doha on Thursday that killed 11 people has again set off a debate on safety. On the one hand, there are furious calls for implementation of more stringent rules to ensure safety, and on the other, there are demands for a balanced reaction.
Thursday’s accident is the worst in the country after the Villaggio fire, which killed 19 people, mostly nursery children. After the fire, the civil defence department made a rigorous assessment of fire safety standards in the country and the result was strict implementation fire safety laws and a nationwide crackdown on companies and establishments flouting rules. There is no doubt that those measures have produced results. What is now needed is a similar action on safety at petrol stations and in the use and handling of gas.
Chances are that the authorities will wake up to the public demands. Safety at petrol stations is no new issue, but one which has been raised by experts and people at various levels. “We have been discussing the issue of relocating restaurants and cafeterias from petrol stations over the last couple of years, but without any results. They must be given a time frame to move to other places,” says Sheikha Al Jefairi, a member of the Central Municipal Council.
All over the world, petrol filling stations are considered hazardous working places which require special licensing. “It’s strange that some petrol stations in Qatar are used as shopping markets. For example, take a look at the Abu Hamour Petrol Station. It’s a mini shopping-cum-restaurant complex where there are all kinds of shops. Any accident or blast there will be disastrous,” said a resident who did not want to be identified.
There is cause for worry because petrol stations in the recent past have been sites of minor accidents. A filling station on C Ring Road recently witnessed the caving in of its floor, as did another one near the Mall. Some of the old petrol stations are potential bombs in terms of safety. The blistering heat during summer in Qatar complicates the problems.
At the same time, the authorities should not resort to over-regulation which will make the running of these establishments extremely tough. The government needs to set up a committee with experts from several fields to study safety at the fuel stations and this committee needs to look into international standards and practices in this field and also the measures adopted by our neighbouring countries, which are operating in the same climatic conditions. That will be a far more sensible step than individual departments formulating rules on their own.