SINGAPORE: The engineer in charge of two SMRT employees killed on the job in March 2016 was sentenced to four weeks’ jail on Monday (Mar 12).
Lim Say Heng, 48, pleaded guilty to one charge of causing death by negligence. He could have been jailed for up to two years and fined.
Lim, who had worked for SMRT since 1999, was in charge of a 15-man team tasked with investigating a possible signaling fault between Tampines and Pasir Ris MRT stations on Mar 22, 2016.
Instead of taking a train to the work site as required under safety guidelines, Lim led the team onto a walkway parallel to the track to proceed to the work site on foot and without warning incoming trains.
The only safety measure attempted was a handwritten note put up at Tampines MRT station, but it did not indicate to train drivers that there were workmen on the track ahead.
The men reached the work site about 190 metres from Pasir Ris MRT station shortly after 11am. Lim stepped off the walkway and onto the track at 11.05am.
Employees in the control room monitoring train movements saw Lim step onto the track, and that a train was approaching.
An employee radioed the team, but there was no response. He then exited the control room and shouted at the men to get off the track.
Lim heard the shouting and jumped off the track to safety.
Trainees Nasrulhudin Najumudin, 25, and Muhammad Asyraf Ahmad Buhari, 24, were directly behind Lim and had stepped off the walkway too, following the engineer’s lead.
It was their first time on the track, and their last. The men were hit by the oncoming train, which was travelling at a speed of up to 80km/h.
They were pronounced dead at the scene.
Lim was sacked – along with the driver of the train that killed the men – months after the accident, which remains SMRT's worst fatal rail incident.
"HIS CAREER HAS GONE TO SHAMBLES": DEFENCE
On Monday, defence lawyer Lee May Ling argued that a fine of S$10,000 – the maximum amount – would be fair. “He was not solely responsible for the implementation of safety protocols … (and) was not the only person who had failed to abide (by them)”, Ms Lee told the court.
She pointed to “systemic failures” at SMRT to enforce safety rules. “There were multiple points of responsibility, at least from the fact of the multiple parties charged and convicted,” Ms Lee said.
Train operator SMRT and its director of control operations Teo Wee Kiat were charged alongside Lim in December 2016.
The company had also been ordered to pay a record fine of S$400,000. It was convicted under the Workplace Safety and Health Act (WSHA) for failing to do the necessary to ensure the safety and health of its employees at work.
At a hearing in February 2017, the prosecutor said the accident took place “against the backdrop of an inexcusable systemic failure to ensure … strict compliance with (safety guidelines)”.
The prosecutor lambasted the Operations Control Centre – directed by Teo – for “giving the green light to employees (to work) in clear contravention of (safety guidelines)”.
Teo was fined S$55,000 in September 2017 after he pleaded guilty to the same charge under the WSHA. The prosecutor had said Teo knew safety protocols were regularly ignored, but did nothing to remedy the situation.
At the time of his sentencing last year, Teo was still working for SMRT and was credited with implementing stricter protocols governing track access during traffic hours.
Ms Lee, Lim’s lawyer, urged the court to keep in mind the price Lim has already paid for his negligence. “His career has gone to shambles”, Ms Lee said, and Lim struggles to provide for his wife, children as well as his elderly parents who are unwell.
“Above all, (Lim) has paid the price of his negligence by having to face the fact every day that Nasrulhudin and Asyraf have lost their lives”, she added.
Even the maximum fine of S$10,000 would be harsh punishment for Lim, argued his lawyer. “The effects of a financial penalty on an organisation like SMRT and a well-paid director like (Teo) completely differ from the effect of a financial penalty on a man like (Lim)”, she told the court.
But District Judge Chay Yuen Fatt said Lim’s failure to check that safety protocols had been followed that day was the “most proximate and direct cause of death”. As such, a jail term is warranted, the judge said.
A coroner’s inquiry into the deaths of Nasrulhudin and Asyraf is expected to take place.