SINGAPORE: Oil giant Shell has been fined S$400,000 for a fire which broke out at a petroleum refinery on Pulau Bukom in 2015, said the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) on Tuesday (Jan 8).
The fire left six workers injured, including two with critical injuries after they suffered 50 per cent and 70 per cent burns.
On Aug 21, 2015, two groups of workers were simultaneously conducting maintenance and project works on a crude distillation unit at the refinery, said the ministry.
The first group was carrying out hot works on a scaffold. This included the use of a blow-cutting torch from an oxy-acetylene cylinder to cut and dismantle existing pipes.
The other group was carrying out cold works along a hydrocarbon solvent line on the ground. This involved removing a joint connection to a valve as well as connecting a hose to the valve to drain out residual flammable hydrocarbons inside the pipeline into a nearby pit.
"When one of the workers opened the valve to start the draining process, flammable vapours from the draining of hydrocarbons came into contact with the sparks from the hot works," said MOM.
The fire broke out despite the worker immediately closing the valve after he was alerted, said the ministry.
The fire was contained and extinguished within 30 minutes by the Bukom Emergency Response Team, MOM said.
"Investigations revealed that there was a systemic failure in Shell’s oversight to check for compatibility of different work activities carried out within the same vicinity at the same time," it said.
The hot and cold works carried out by the two groups in the same vicinity were not coordinated. This caused the flammable vapours from the cold works to be ignited by sparks from the hot works.
Shell was charged for failing to implement adequate control measures to ensure compatibility of works were carried out at the refinery.
MOM’s director of the major hazards department Go Heng Huat said the refinery, which is a major hazard installation, must properly manage safety and risk control measures.
"The lives of workers and the public could have been put at risk because adequate control measures were not properly implemented," said Mr Go.
"Even though there was no loss of life in this case, the potential for more severe consequences was evident."
The Pulau Bukom site, Shell’s largest wholly owned plant, has a 500,000 barrels per day refinery and a steam cracker that produces more than 900,000 tonnes of ethylene a year.
In September 2011, a blaze at the refinery took 100 firefighters nearly two days to put out and forced the oil giant to shut the plant. One firefighter had a superficial injury and five others had heat exhaustion and pulled muscles, the Singapore Civil Defence Force said then.
On December 2017, another fire broke out at Shell's Pulau Bukom facility. No injuries were reported in this incident.