‘Trotros’ and the death trap at filling stations 

A GNA Feature by Tracy Amankwah Peprah

Accra, Nov. 21, GNA – “It’s been seven years and I still can’t find Kweku Mensah, my mate. There is no trace of him. I believe strongly he’s dead.

“The explosion threw us into the flood at the filling station as we tried to get some fuel to start our usual ‘trotro’ business on 3rd June 2015,” Alex Mensah, a commercial driver recounts with tears.

The 45-year-old man says he’s still suffering, unable to work having sustained severe head and arm burns. 

A heavy downpour on the night of June 3, 2015 in the country’s capital preceded an explosion at the Kwame Nkrumah Circle branch of the Goil Filling Station leaving Ghanaians with unfading memories of a ‘twin’ disaster – flood and fire explosion. 

Over 150 lives were lost. 

Most of those lives just wanted shelter during the rain at the fuel station and alas, the tragedy! A chunk of them, passengers on board commercial vehicles (trotro). 

After seven years, Ghanaians still engage in some of the activities that contributed to the national disaster, perhaps awaiting another ‘boom’! 

One of the activities is the practice of commercial drivers buying fuel with their busses fully loaded with passengers irrespective of the health implications. 

Gasoline and diesel fuel are found at fuel stations. Gasoline is the specialised fossil fuel made from petroleum (petrol), and diesel fuel is made from refined petroleum. They are made of Benzene, Toluene, Ethylbenzene and Xylene (BTEX).

The Queensland Government Department of Environment and Science says, “the most common sources of exposure to BTEX are from breathing contaminated air, particularly in areas of heavy motor vehicle traffic and petrol stations”. 

The United States’ Environmental Protection Agency has classified Benzene, which is present in petroleum as human carcinogen, meaning it contains cancer causing substances.

Research suggests that bad air quality at filling stations has the tendency to contribute to health hazards.

Breathing small amounts of gasoline vapour can lead to nose and throat irritation, confusion and breathing difficulties.

Some studies have proven that human exposure to BTEX can cause neurological diseases such as headaches, dizziness, inability to concentrate, impaired short term memory, tremors, epilepsy, learning disabilities, brain tumours and cerebral palsy (disorder of movement, posture or muscle tone). 

Apart from issues of air pollution, the drivers also keep their engines, which experts say is wrong and can easily spark fire. 

“According to safety rules, they said we should not fill the tank while passengers are in it. They came to educate us on that. They normally come here to do the education but most of the drivers do not listen. When you tell them, they tell you they do not have money so they use the collected transport fare to buy the fuel,” one driver, William  Quarcoopome, told the Ghana News Agency at the Old Tema Station Lorry Terminal. 

“It is expected that for every driver, immediately you leave your home to start work, you need to fill your tank . When you close too, you do the same but they do not follow that. Even if I do not agree, another passenger might and if it shorts on the way, we will all complain because it will delay us so you just have to accept it that way,” a passenger, Nimatu, said.

“The drivers never ask for permission from the passengers before going to the filling stations, they just go as if we are not even important. This is not a current thing, it has always been happening,” Joshua, another passenger, lamented. 

“I always feel it is not right but who are you to say? Every time, the drivers will say, we will be done in no time (polite ones) and apologise if you are fortunate. I just cover my nose for as long as I can when they are filling their tank,” Kofi Addo, also passenger, added.

But who do we blame? Drivers who are aware their actions have dire consequences but still do it or passengers who are aware they can be harmed but because they sympathise with the drivers and would not want to be stuck on the way and so agree to be taken there? 

Fuel station owners and workers who do not mind that passengers are in the vehicle and still sell the fuel to the drivers because they are doing business or authorities responsible for preventing such actions who are not putting in much effort? 

The National Petroleum Authority has an Inspections and Monitoring Department that monitors the operations of Petroleum Service Providers (PSPs) and inspects facilities of PSPs in the petroleum downstream industry.

The Health, Safety, Security and Environment (HSSE) unit focuses on Health, Safety and Environmental issues in the industry but one wonders why the laws are not enforced. 

Puma Energy says, “strong health and safety is the foundation. It continues to be absolutely fundamental to our successful, responsible operations and our sustainable, profitable growth.”

Goil Filling Stations have the inscription: “Hazzard identification is a key part of any injury and illness prevention programme within a business. If hazards are not identified, they cannot be mitigated correctly.”

Total Energies Ghana PLC indicates that it is committed to delivering “high quality and safety standards” throughout their distribution process.

 “At TotalEnergies Marketing Ghana PLC, we work hard every day to guarantee the safety of our customers, through equipments and installations (extinguishers, sand boxes, padlocked fill boxes).”

All these assurances are well captured but implementation is a great worry. 

According to the National Transport Policy, the National Road Safety Authority is responsible for ensuring safety and security through all stages of transport development and operations.

The Environmental Protection Agency subjects all transport infrastructure projects to safety, environment, social and health impact assessments and audits at all stages of development and operations of the transport system.

The EPA is also to introduce best maintenance management practices for all transport sector developments to prevent adverse impacts on the environment, human health and operational efficiency.

With all these powers and responsibilities, I think it is time the institutions enforced the laws to protect the travelling public and not only focus on permit fees. 

Fuel station owners and law enforcement agencies should stop drivers from entering fuel stations with passengers on the bus.

If passengers cannot enjoy effective transport system, they should not die or develop health issues for no fault of theirs.