The death of two workers at Anna University contravened no law because the laws are particularly blind to occupational safety at small enterprises.

On June 21, 2016, two young men died. Their bodies were found in a tank at the Anna University campus in Chennai. They were employees of a subcontractor who had been hired to seal the tank with rubber to prevent any leakage of air. The tank was being constructed as a part of a project by the Ministry of Renewable Energy to explore the possibilities of using compressed air to store energy. The two workers, Ramesh Shankar and Deepan, had arrived at the site at around 11.30 am and begun work. By 3.30 pm, when they were pulled out of the tank, Deepan was dead and Ramesh Shankar, while still breathing at the time, died a few minutes later.

According to statements from the university and the police, it seems that Shankar and Deepan had been working with two chemicals, silicone and toluene. Toluene is a solvent derived from benzene. While less harmful than benzene, inhaling or ingesting toluene can cause serious damage to the nervous system and even be fatal. Despite the confined nature of the tank, with only a solitary opening right at the top, the two men were given no safety gear and no supervisor from either Anna University or their employer, Kavimeena Rubber Products, was standing watch. Subsequent investigation by a team of labour activists found the situation to have been “lethal right from the beginning”. Read more