SINGAPORE: An industrial gas company and its chief executive were fined a total of S$385,000 on Tuesday (Jan 26) over safety lapses that led to the death of a laboratory chemist in an explosion at its Tanjong Kling premises in 2015.
Leeden National Oxygen was fined S$340,000 for failing to take measures to ensure the safety and health of its employees at work, while Steven Tham Weng Cheong, 69, was fined S$45,000 for a similar charge. Both paid the sum in full.
The victim, 30-year-old Lim Siaw Chian, had recently returned to work after giving birth. Her daughter was just six months old.
Ms Lim was carrying out gas analysis on a cylinder when a series of explosions broke out at 21 Tanjong Kling Road on Oct 12, 2015.
Employees at Leeden's specialty gas centre quality control laboratory – where the blast took place – carried out analyses of gases in cylinders of various capacity and pressure to verify if they met customers' requirements before delivery.
Ms Lim died of blast injuries and two of her colleagues who were in the lab with her were hurt as well, with secondary fires wounding another seven employees. The injuries included brain haemorrhage, lacerations and abrasions.
The initial explosion occurred at the rear of the lab, where Ms Lim was last seen touching a regulatory valve assembly connected to the incident cylinder before closed-circuit television footage went blank.
The primary failure was found to be an unqualified weld joint in the bullet stem of the regulatory valve assembly, that had been modified and not properly checked before use.
As a result, a flammable methane-oxygen-nitrogen mix leaked from the equipment when the cylinder was being tested and was likely ignited by frictional heat.
Investigations found that Leeden purchased these regulatory valve assemblies from different suppliers but could not trace the ones that provided the modified equipment.
There were therefore no test reports from the suppliers to show if the equipment was tested and qualified. The items were also kept in a tool box cabinet, with no periodic maintenance and no checking of defects.
"Had there been a maintenance regime, the leak of flammable gas which resulted in the explosion could have been averted," the prosecutor said.
Leeden failed in seven aspects to ensure safety measures, including failing to take measures to ensure that unsafe modified regulatory valve assemblies were not used when testing combustible gases and failing to ensure a system for tracking and maintenance of such equipment.
As the CEO, Tham was responsible for the overall operations of Leeden, including safety, human resources and finances. Court documents revealed that he did not review the company's safety procedures following a merger between two companies that formed Leeden in October 2014.
For failing to take necessary measures to ensure the health and safety of its employees, Leeden could have been fined up to S$500,000. Tham could have been jailed up to two years, fined up to S$200,000, or both.