Mumbai: Gas leak at catering firm lands 35 employees in hospital

Employees of the catering firm, who took ill after a carbon dioxide leak, had to struggle to escape the premises, only to be asked to share beds at the hospital, which did not have enough room

After a carbon dioxide leak at an Andheri-based catering firm landed at least 35 employees in hospital yesterday, various lapses have emerged in the way the company handled the emergency. Not only was the outlet poorly ventilated, leaving no way for the gas to escape, but the distressed victims had to struggle through narrow corridors and a locked emergency door.

Even after they reached the hospital, they were allegedly made to share beds so that the firm could cut costs. mid-day had reported yesterday how several employees at the in-flight catering service took ill after carbon dioxide leaked from the kitchen and spread though the air-conditioning vents.

Sources said that while the gas began to leak around 2.30 pm, the staffers were moved to Mukund Hospital around 5.30 pm. Even as they suffered nausea, giddiness, burning throats, running noses and headaches, the employees were made to share beds, while some simply had to make do with chairs, since there weren’t enough beds to accommodate all 35 of them.

Not only did the victims have to struggle with narrow corridors and a locked emergency door, some were made to share beds or while others had to make do with chairs at the hospital
Not only did the victims have to struggle with narrow corridors and a locked emergency door, some were made to share beds or while others had to make do with chairs at the hospital

They found relief only around 10.30 pm, when 15-odd patients were shifted to Medicare Hospital. “The company has a tie-up with Mukund Hospital, due to which they weren’t ready to consider the option of taking the victims to another hospital.

But we informed them that there was no space to accommodate all of them, and eventually at night, around 5-6 hours after the incident, the patients were shifted to Medicare Hospital,” alleged Ketan Naik, secretary of the workers’ union, Maharashtra Navnirman Kamgar Sena.

‘Havoc’
According to staff members, the leak began at 2.30 pm, starting from the kitchen boilers located in the basement, and spread through the AC ducts. The staffers began to feel short of breath and complained of giddiness, nausea and palpitations.

“Within moments, almost all of us realised something was wrong, since this had already happened in the past. But that day, the leak created havoc, since up to 158 units of CO2 had leaked, which is much higher than the limit of 1.5 units,” said one of the employees who has been working at Sky Gourmet since the past 12 years.

Sources also mentioned that one of the major reasons why the gas had affected so many was because the premises were poorly ventilated. There was no exhaust mechanism inside the kitchen so the gas was trapped inside. “The only open airways available were the AC ducts, through which the gas spread, affecting most of the people present in the dining area,” said another employee.

Not only were the corridors narrow, there were only two exit routes. Ironically, one of them was a dead end because the emergency door was locked. The Sahar police are currently investigating the matter but are yet to register the case.

“We haven’t filed any case as the investigations are going on. We will take help of technical experts to find out what happened,” said Senior Police Inspector Prashant Marde from Sahar police station.

Timely treatment
Doctors said that it was fortunate that the patients were brought in before it was too late. “One can never tell how much a patient can worsen due to excess CO2 in the bloodstream. But fortunately, the patients arrived in time and we put them on oxygen as well as intravenous fluids.

After checking the vitals, those who seemed to be having breathing difficulties or palpitations were moved to intensive care units, and all of them are stable as of now. Most of them have already been discharged,” said Dr Meena Prabhu, treating doctor and director at Mukund Hospital.

‘No comment’
When mid-day contacted Sky Gourmet to ask about the cause of the leak and lapses in the way the crisis was dealt with, all the HR manager, Shivaji Lad said was “No comment”. General manager Sunil Alvares also remained unavailable for comment.

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