At least 17 people died and dozens more suffered injuries following an explosion on Tuesday at the Gadani ship breaking yard in Pakistan. Over 200 employees were working on stripping down an unused oil tanker when the incident occurred at Gadani, one of the largest ship breaking yards in the world.
The tragedy marks the single worst accident in ship breaking history ever reported, but the industry is not exactly one that prioritizes worker safety, as explosions, falls and other hazards threaten laborers' lives every day, as Nicola Mulinaris with the NGO Shipbreaking Platform, a coalition of environmental, human and labor rights organizations, explains.
"Shipbreaking has been declared the most dangerous job in the world by the International Labour Organization (ILO)," Mulinaris told Seeker in an e-mail. Workers do the entire job on a beach, an environment that's inaccessible to the kind of heavy machinery needed to cut steel. Instead, workers use blow torches to break ships down piece by piece and let gravity do the rest.
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Because of the methods used to tear down ships, large sections of the vessel crash down on the beach, often crushing workers below, Mulinaris said. Explosions and falls that injure or kill workers are also common in the industry. Protective gear, such as breathing masks to prevent workers from toxic fumes, and adequate training are not common in the industry, however.
And that's just what workers face in a typical day on the job. Over the long term, the exposure to toxic fumes, hazardous materials and unhealthy working and living conditions as a result of the job increase the risks of both debilitating and fatal health conditions, such as cancer or asbestosis - lung disease caused by inhaling asbestos.