COI on SingTel fire uncovers shortcomings in fire safety practices
- POSTED: 16 Dec 2013 18:17
- UPDATED: 17 Dec 2013 00:14
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The committee tasked with investigating the cause of the fire which led to service disruptions for 60,000 SingTel customers in October, has uncovered shortcomings in the telco's fire safety practices.
SINGAPORE: The committee tasked with investigating the cause of the fire which led to service disruptions for 60,000 SingTel customers in October, has uncovered shortcomings in the telco's fire safety practices.
And it said those require immediate rectification.
The independent Board Committee of Inquiry (COI) has described the fire as a localised human error.
SingTel’s chairman Simon Israel said the incident should never have happened.
Simon Israel said: "Our board's decision to hold a committee of inquiry and make the findings and recommendations public -- in fact we are making the whole report public -- is a transparent approach to assuring stakeholders that we have critically examined this incident, we have learnt from it and we are taking steps to make SingTel's network even more resilient."
The fire was sparked when an employee used an unauthorised blowtorch, borrowed from a contractor, during maintenance works to heat and shrink a lead-based sealant that prevents water and gas from entering the cable chambers.
The blowtorch used emits double the heat of a standard-issued one.
Bobby Chin Yoke Choong, non-executive independent director, and chairman of Risk Committee at SingTel, said: “Only standardised blowtorches issued by SingTel got to be used.
“The heat of the blowtorch is also different between our equipment and the contractor's equipment, so in the first place, you should never have borrowed the blowtorch from the contractor.”
It was also revealed that the smoke detector in the chamber where the work was being done had been turned off because of the nature of the hot works.
The employee then went for lunch and never turned the detector back on.
Mr Chin said: “There’s a requirement to turn off the smoke detector, which is important because when you are using the blowtorch to melt the sealant and thereby trying to pull the fibre cables, smoke will be emitted; and therefore there will be false alarm and therefore the procedure requires him to do so, but then he went off for lunch and…he did not reactivate the detector.”
Besides human error, other fire safety inadequacies were also revealed.
As the cable chamber was considered as holding passive, non-heat generating equipment, there was no automated fire suppression system like sprinklers.
The committee has proposed a slew of measures to enhance the telco's fire safety practices, among them, replacing all lead-based sealants with multi-cable transit systems which do not require heating during maintenance.
SingTel expects to complete that replacement exercise by the end of next year.
The committee also proposed that SingTel install fire suppression systems even in areas that do not have heat-generating equipment.
It also said the telco needs to improve its communications with its various stakeholders.
The incident had also affected M1 and StarHub customers because two-thirds of the damaged fibre-optic cables belonged to OpenNet, which sells fibre links to the other telcos.
SingTel’s chairman Simon Israel said: “The industry as a whole is not just SingTel. The industry as a whole hasn't appreciated the potential issues that arise from that and this crisis has brought those issues to the surface, so what we are saying is we have to respond to that, as an industry, collectively.
“Today it's our problem, tomorrow, it's someone else's problem. So you have to have that coordination to understand all of the impact that is taking place. How do you respond to that? How do you restore services quickly? The industry needs to pool resources and come together when there is a crisis, particularly one of national proportion, to deal with it as effectively as possible."
The committee, though, gave top marks for SingTel's network resiliency, without which, it said, the damage could be worse.
The telco also scored well for its business continuity and incident management -- most of the cables were restored within two days.
SingTel's board has accepted and endorsed the recommendations and findings.
The telco will have to report the progress of its implementation works to the board, within three months.
Separately, the Infocomm Development Authority of Singapore (IDA) said its own investigations into the Bukit Panjang Exchange fire incident are expected to be completed within the next two months.
In a statement, the IDA said the public will be informed about the results of its investigations.
It will then decide on the appropriate actions to be taken.
As in previous incidents, the IDA said the licensee -- in this case, SingTel -- is required to provide a detailed submission of its inquiry report.
"We will take all information provided by SingTel in its submission to IDA, including any information derived from the Board Committee of Inquiry, as well as all other relevant information into consideration as part of IDA's independent investigations before we make our decision," said an IDA spokesperson.