Deadly tankers: How to tighten fuel transportation regulations


The fuel tanker that exploded, burning three people beyond recognition at Mukhonje area along Malaba- Eldoret road on January 26, 2019. [Benjamin Sakwa, Standard]

Following increased accidents involving fuel and cooking gas tankers, the government promised to review guidelines for licensing transporters of petroleum products.

The transporters are vetted and licensed by the Energy and Petroleum Regulatory Authority (Epra).

But it appears there are gaps in the regulations, which have proved costly.

The latest accident took place on Saturday at the Mukhonje market on the Eldoret-Malaba highway, where two petroleum tankers and a lorry ferrying building materials collided.

A month earlier, a gas cylinder being transported on a trailer exploded at Mutarakwa on the Nairobi-Mai Mahiu Road. Seven people sustained serious burns while the area suffered pollution.

Epra said it was tightening the regulations.

“We are in the process of reviewing requirement for petroleum road transportation licences, tanker permits and drivers certificates to incorporate additional safety requirements that include defensive driving certification for petroleum road tanker drivers, period conformity and submission of a detailed Highway Emergency Response Plan at the time of application for a petroleum road transport licence,” said Epra.

“We have set up a multi-agency team to develop guidelines that will ensure issuance of special permits to foreign registered petroleum road tankers while operating in Kenya.”

Current requirements

The licensing of transporters of LPG and other fuels is governed by the Petroleum (Licensing of Petroleum Road Transportation Business, Road Tankers and Drivers) Regulations.

The requirements for truck owners include fire certificates from the county governments, a valid report of examination of the LPG tank mounted on the vehicle, valid motor vehicle inspection certificates, a highway emergency response plan and a GPS vehicle tracking device.

In addition to having a valid driving licence, other requirements for drivers include a certificate of fitness from a doctor and police clearance certificate.

The current requirements might, however, fall short of arresting disasters. Linus Gitonga, the chief executive officer of Depar Ltd, a cooking gas and fuel dealer, says drivers also need skills to understand the products they are ferrying. 

He notes that driving experience is not all that one needs to handle the highly flammable cargo.

“There is a need to look at driver training. They need specialised skills to handle trucks transporting petroleum products. The industry is realising that this might be one of the issues that we need to look at… They need tailor made training so that they have knowledge on the product and how to handle it,” he says.

Gitonga also suggests a relook at the design of vehicles transporting petroleum products. He says the country needs to adopt a higher standard as is the case with LPG tankers, which rarely spill gas when involved in accidents. 

“This can guarantee that the product is secured inside the tank even if there is an accident.”

The industry needs to increase public awareness, says Gitonga, noting that despite past experiences, people always rush to a scene of accident to scoop petroleum products.

“Why are people still risking their lives despite all the awareness? The level of awareness needs to be improved,” he says.

The regulations also require that trucks be parked at designated areas, a rule that is regularly ignored.

“In any case, no petroleum road tanker shall be allowed to remain stationary within 100 metres from a residential area whether the tanker is loaded or empty,” reads the regulations.

Some of the accidents involving fuel tankers that have remain memorable is the 2009 one at the Sachangwan Trading Centre on the Nakuru-Eldoret Highway, where 111 people died while hundreds were injured.

In December 2016, a driver lost control of a tanker near Naivasha, rammed more than a dozen vehicles and exploded, killing 39 people.

Gitonga adds that the industry needs to implement a joint Highway Emergency Response Plan as opposed to the current scenario where each company has its own.

This will allow for deployment of more resources and quick response in case of an accident, mitigating damages.

Fatigue and indiscipline

The chairman of the Kenya Independent Petroleum Dealers Association Joseph Karanja says other causes of the accidents include failure by transporters to manage fatigue among drivers as well as indiscipline on roads.

“Some of the issues also have to do with the basic soft skills such as a driver being courteous and disciplined on the road. Just because a driver has the right of way does not mean you have to cause an incident,” he says.

“There is also the issue of drivers having basic knowledge of the working of a vehicle. When the engine or other parts are faulty, a driver should be able notice and have it checked. This way they are able to avoid some of the accidents.”

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