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Tuas explosion: Inquiry committee recommends criminal proceedings for 'dereliction of duty' by firm

Tuas explosion: Inquiry committee recommends criminal proceedings for 'dereliction of duty' by firm

SCDF paramedics attending to the injured after a Tuas industrial building fire on Feb 24, 2021. (Photo: Facebook/SCDF)

SINGAPORE: An industrial accident in Tuas that killed three workers was mainly brought about by the company’s failure to ensure the safe use of a mixer machine that exploded, an inquiry committee concluded in its report released on Friday (Mar 25).

The inquiry committee has strongly recommended criminal proceedings against the company - Stars Engrg, its director Chua Xing Da, and production manager Lwin Moe Tun, said Senior Minister of State for Manpower Zaqy Mohamad at a virtual press conference on Friday.

The committee’s chairman, Senior District Judge Ong Hian Sun, was of the view that criminal offences have been disclosed in acts and omissions by Stars Engrg, Mr Chua and Mr Lwin, said the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) in a press release.

The inquiry report has been forwarded to the public prosecutor.

“The public prosecutor is currently reviewing the report and will require some time to make a considered decision on the further actions to be taken,” said Mr Zaqy.

The accident on Feb 24 last year injured 10 workers, three of whom died from severe burns to 90 per cent of their bodies.

Stars Engrg workers were preparing a mixer machine to mix potato starch powder with heated water at their workshop in Tuas when the explosion happened.

They were manufacturing “fire clay” for use in an insulation wrap which goes around piping and ducting systems in building construction.

Eight workers from the company were injured in total, and the three who died were Bangladeshis Anisuzzaman Md, 29, and Shohel Md, 23, and Indian national Subbaiyan Marimuthu, 38. Two other workers from another firm were also injured.

The inquiry committee (IC) looking into the causes of the explosion held hearings from September to November last year.

“The IC concluded that the explosion was primarily brought about by Stars Engrg’s failure and dereliction of duty to ensure the safe use of the mixer machine,” said MOM.

Despite multiple warning signs, such as oil leaks and fires, Stars Engrg did not properly investigate these incidents before allowing the machine to continue operating, according to the committee’s findings.

“(Star Engrg’s) actions resulted in excessive pressure on the machine’s oil jacket, causing mechanical failure and rupture of the welds,” MOM said.

The explosion of the mixer machine then ignited combustible potato starch powder in the workshop which led to secondary flash fires.

“Furthermore, the IC also found several other safety lapses at the worksite such as not providing appropriate personal protective equipment or PPE and lack of a clearly indicated fire safety escape route,” said Mr Zaqy.

“The recommendations outlined in the report aim to address two critical failures.”

RECOMMENDATIONS BY INQUIRY COMMITTEE

These recommendations include encouraging and equipping companies to certify their machineries to industry safety standards and increasing awareness of combustible dust hazards, he added.

On the management of combustible dust, the committee noted that guidelines are already available. 

It recommends putting warning labels on packages and requiring companies to notify their landlord and the authorities if they are handling a substantial amount of combustible dust.

It also suggests more outreach on these hazards, especially for small- and medium-sized enterprises, and to bring in unions to help educate workers who may be at risk.

The committee also noted that the existing Workplace Safety and Health Act already lays out general duties of stakeholders to ensure the safety and health of workers. 

“Due to the wide variety of industrial machines and combustible powders used in the industry, the IC is minded not to recommend knee-jerk reactions that could result in over-regulation and impose excessive regulatory burden on the economy,” said the press release.

MOM said the Government has accepted all of the committee’s recommendations.

Mr Zaqy added: “We firmly believe that we must always be many steps ahead when it comes to our workers’ safety. Now to this end, we will surely ensure that these measures are implemented as soon as possible.”

2 WORKERS RETURNED HOME

Giving an update on the injured workers, Mr Zaqy said two Star Engrg workers have returned to their home countries after receiving compensation.

The remaining three workers are staying at the Stars Engrg dormitory and their living and medical expenses are being paid for by the company.

Two of them are awaiting insurance payouts and one worker’s claim is “pending final assessment by the medical board”, said Mr Zaqy. 

“Since the last inquiry committee in 2004 for the Nicoll Highway collapse, we have made great strides in our efforts to improve workplace safety and health in Singapore,” he said.

The fatal injury rate declined from 4.9 per 100,000 back then to 0.9 per 100,000 injuries in 2020.

“Nonetheless, despite our huge strides made, this accident shows that we still have some way to go towards our Vision Zero goal. I strongly urge employers and employees to take learning points outlined by the inquiry committee seriously,” said Mr Zaqy.

Full details of the IC’s findings and recommendations can be found at this website.

Source: CNA/hm(ta)

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