SINGAPORE: The contractor involved in the collapse of an uncompleted viaduct in mid-July which killed one and injured 10 was awarded the project despite being assessed to have a “low safety performance score”, said the Ministry of Transport (MOT) in Parliament on Tuesday (Aug 1).
Just days before the accident the contractor, Or Kim Peow (OKP), had been convicted over a separate fatality at another work site in 2015.
Senior Minister of State for Transport Lam Pin Min explained that the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) was still investigating this 2015 incident, at the time the Land Transport Authority (LTA) was evaluating OKP’s bid to construct the viaduct, a section of which collapsed last month.
This was why LTA did not disqualify OKP outright, he said.
Dr Lam said that at the time “we did not know exactly what was the cause and what liability OKP had” in the 2015 fatality.
“But this was taken into consideration when we evaluated the tender, and as a result OKP scored the lowest for quality in its project submission.
“On the other hand, OKP offered the lowest tender price, and also had a good track record in completing many similar infrastructural projects over the past 10 years,” added Dr Lam.
“Overall, it obtained the highest (price-quality) score and was awarded the contract.”
He earlier revealed that LTA adheres to guidelines issued by the Building and Construction Authority (BCA) in considering the price and quality of bids.
“BCA’s guidelines for the price-quality ratio range from 60:40 for more complex projects, to 80:20 for simpler ones,” said Dr Lam. “For the construction of this viaduct, LTA adopted a ratio of 70:30, commonly used for projects of this complexity.”
He also noted that after a tightening of the evaluation process two years ago, 16 bids from 10 contractors have been disqualified for poor safety performance alone.
“Over the past three years, LTA has called a total of 175 tenders for construction works, which received over 1,100 submissions,” Dr Lam revealed. “Out of these submissions, 69 were from contractors who had serious workplace safety lapses. Of these 69, only two bids were successful.
“Both these bidders had submitted the lowest price bid and received the highest overall price-quality score. For these two cases, the winning price bids were 27 per cent and 6 per cent lower than the second-lowest bids.”
The former refers to OKP’s winning bid of S$94.6 million over three other groups which had tendered sums ranging from S$129.7 million to S$193.7 million.
Dr Lam also said the multi-agency probe into the cause of the collapse was scheduled for completion in October. Preliminary investigations had uncovered that the corbels supporting the deck slab had given way.
NO "SYSTEMIC FAILURE" AT OKP PREVIOUSLY: MOM
Minister of State for Manpower Sam Tan also addressed questions from the House on why OKP was not placed under the Business Under Surveillance programme after its 2015 accident. The programme punishes companies with poor safety management by revoking their bizSAFE certification and putting them under close supervision by MOM.
“Following the 2015 accident, MOM inspected all OKP work sites to check if the accident reflected a wider systemic failure of the company’s safety management,” said Mr Tan. “No evidence was found.”
This investigation process is a “comprehensive regime” that makes sure the company, from management down to workers, follows Workplace Safety and Health (WSH) standards, he later elaborated.
“If a company has encountered a certain work site accident, and the cause of the accident is not because there’s no proper WSH regime put in place, but because of certain human error or oversight, that is considered as an isolated and not systemic failure.”
But Mr Tan noted that OKP has now been placed under the Business Under Surveillance programme after the viaduct collapse, owing to 2016 enhancements which expand the criteria to immediately include any company with a stop-work order or any number of fatalities.
“To exit from (the programme), companies need to demonstrate to MOM that they have taken remedial steps to improve its WSH performance,” he said. “This includes conducting refresher training for all workers on any unsafe practices found. On average, this process takes at least one year.
“Many companies which went through the programme have exited and attained good safety standards. Some have even won safety and health awards locally and internationally.”
Mr Tan revealed that 25 companies have been placed on the programme since its enhancements.
He said the enhanced regime has helped reduce construction workplace fatalities from 27 in 2015 to 24 in 2016 and to four in 2017 to date.
Other enforcement methods include MOM conducting more than 16,000 inspections per year, along with the WSH Council putting 500,000 workers through education programmes and more than 150,000 through safety training yearly. Mr Tan also said more than 27,000 companies have benefitted from WSH initiatives as of 2016.