SMRT sends emails to staff, defending its decision to dismiss two staff involved in fatal accident on 22 March

Defending the decision it made towards the dismissal of its 2 employees, Mr Lee Ling Wee, the Managing Director of SMRT Trains, wrote an email sent to staff members on Wednesday (14 September) that it is untenable that the two staff dismissed on Tuesday are not treated consistently with SMRT's firm stance on safety.

It was reported yesterday that the SMRT Corporation had fired the train driver who was involved in the fatal accident on 22 March, that claimed the lives of two SMRT maintenance staff along the track at a servicing point near Pasir Ris station.

Mr Rahmat Mohd, 49, the train driver involved in the accident in March, had been assigned to a non-driving job after the accident. According to The Straits Times, he was called to the SMRT office yesterday for an internal inquiry and discharged right away afterward.

According to its sources, ST reported that a SMRT staff in the control center had also left as the result of the accident, preceding Mr Rahmat.

The two victims, Mr Nasrulhudin Najumudin, 26, and Mr Muhammad Asyraf Ahmad Buhari, 24, were SRMT maintenance workers trainees. They were tasked to examine a signaling condition monitoring device along the tracks near Pasir Ris MRT Station, along with a joint engineering team.

Mr Lee wrote in the letter that the disciplinary process after 22 March was fair, thorough and comprehensive. Apart from the two dismissals, verbal and written warning letters have been issued to staff across several grades. In addition, individual performance grades were recalibrated downwards across various levels of the Trains team, including senior management and staff.

"We did this in an all-out effort to never again repeat safety lapses." wrote Mr Lee on the dismissal of the two staff on Tuesday.

He noted that the dismissal of the two staff is consistent with the company's firm stance on safety as staff involved in safety breaches such as signal passed at danger (SPAD) cases on SMRT rail network have been dismissed for the safety lapse.

However, the letter does not seem to address the points brought up by the preliminary finding of the Accident Review Panel.

The Accident Review Panel formed to seek out the cause of the fatal accident, discovered that the vital safety protection measure of setting a code to ensure the speed limit on the affected track sector to 0 km/h so that no train can enter on automated mode was not applied. Neither was the deployment of watchmen to look out for approaching trains and provide early warning to the work team.

The panel noted that as the train was on automated mode when the accident happened, the train driver was unable to prevent the accident despite having applied emergency brakes immediately when he saw the staff on the track.

Given that the panel has already excluded the train driver from the cause of the lapses as the train is set on automatic mode and done his part in attempting to stop the train, why is the train driver still penalised for the accident?

Below is the full letter sent to SMRT staff.

Dear Colleagues,

Media reports on the dismissal of two Trains staff have generated some discussion on our disciplinary process. Your family and friends may have also asked you about this matter.

It is important for SMRT Trains staff to know that our disciplinary process is fair. We do not single out any staff or department to bear the responsibility when things go wrong.

Two staff from SMRT Trains were dismissed on Tuesday (13 September) as a result of the disciplinary process that was centred on the 22 March tragedy. We lost two of our own – Nasrulhudin bin Najumudin and Muhammad Asyraf bin Ahmad Buhari – on the tracks near Pasir Ris MRT on 22 March and have pledged to tighten safety and accountability throughout SMRT.

The disciplinary process after 22 March was fair, thorough and comprehensive. Besides the two dismissals, verbal and written warning letters were issued to staff across several grades. In addition, individual performance grades were recalibrated downwards across various levels of the Trains team, including senior management and staff. As staff involved in safety breaches such as SPAD cases on our rail network have been dismissed for the safety lapse, it is untenable that the two staff dismissed on Tuesday are not treated consistently with our firm stance on safety. We did this in an all-out effort to never again repeat safety lapses.

The disciplinary process that led to the dismissal of two staff was carried out in strict accordance with our established Fact Finding framework which included the presence of Union representatives.

SMRT did not release any names of the staff who were dismissed. It has never been our practice to comment on staff disciplinary measures with the media or members of the public. The words used in media stories like “fired” and “sacked” were chosen by journalists who wrote these stories. Our response to the media who had queried SMRT about the dismissals stated: “We do not comment on staff disciplinary measures.”

Since 22 March, many work processes and safeguards have been introduced to tighten safety further. The SMRT team has also re-emphasised long standing arrangements such as work instructions and SOPs that put safety first. This push to never again have a repeat of the 22 March tragedy involved expert advice from an independent and impartial Safety Review Committee (SRC), which comprises a seven-member panel made up of four Board Risk Committee members and three safety/operations management experts from Transport for London, Hong Kong MTR and Keppel Corp. To date, 64 action items have been implemented under the SRC’s guidance anchored on these key categories:

– Review of Track Access Procedures
– Educate, Enforce and Ensure to drive workforce discipline and compliance
– Review Training Programmes
– Enhance Safety Policy and Safety Performance Monitoring
– Review of the use of Personal Protective Equipment and
– Managing Change as the new CBTC signalling system is prepared for operations

SRC’s recommendations have led to the establishment a Track Access Management Office to control access to railway tracks, the strengthening of workplace health and safety by changing tools from metal to composite material to reduce electric shock risks, and a proactive push to raise and sustain a Safety First mindset among staff, all of whom are empowered – regardless of rank – to call a time-out if they feel safety is compromised.

The NSEWL Operations team has taken the additional step of ushering in ChANGE, which stands for Checks, Audits ‘N’ Ground Engagement. This aims to firmly entrench a safer work place environment and stronger safety culture. The ChANGE movement drives home the point that everyone needs to play their part to check, ensure, enforce and engage their team members so that we can be safe and excellent in all that we are entrusted to do. We should all follow their example of discipline and professionalism.

We will not forget the pain of the 22 March tragedy. Everyone in the SMRT team has an individual responsibility to practice and reinforce safety awareness so that the “never again” pledge is achieved for years to come.

Lee Ling Wee
Managing Director, SMRT Trains

This entry was posted in Current Affairs.