Public feels SMRT Director fined for safety lapses made scapegoat for top management

In a Straits Times report dated Friday (29 September), it is reported that Teo Wee Kiat, 41, director of control operations of Singapore Mass Rapid Transit (SMRT) was fined $55,000 on Friday (Sept 29) for failing to take necessary measures to ensure the safety of its employees over a fatal track accident near Pasir Ris MRT station in March 2016, when two trainees, Mr Nasrulhudin Najumudin and Mr Muhammad Asyraf Ahmad Buhari, passed away when a train crashed into them shortly after they stepped onto the tracks.

Mr Teo pleaded guilty to a charge under the Workplace Safety and Health Act for failing to ensure that its employees complied with the approved operating procedures when accessing the train track during traffic hours.

According to the charge, Mr Teo also failed to ensure that the procedures practiced by its staff to access the train track had passed safety audits, were documented and were disseminated.

The Ministry of Manpower (MOM) stated on Monday (25 September) that SMRT had approved and issued a set of documented operating procedures (OP) known as "Unit 3C OP" to govern track access during traffic hours.

MOM said that this is because it is an inherently dangerous and high-risk activity as it requires employees to be physically present on the train tracks when passenger train services are in operation.

However, the investigation that had been done found that SMRT employees have not been complying with "Unit 3C OP" from as early as 2002, and that the frequency of employees utilising such unapproved methods of track access had increased from 2007.

The Ministry also found that SMRT's Operations Control Centre (OCC), which comes under Teo's charge, manages and grants final approval to all requests for track access, has been allowing SMRT employees to deviate from the "Unit 3C OP" when granting permission to access train track during traffic hours.

MOM also said Teo was aware that SMRT employees had not been complying with "Unit 3C OP" when accessing limited clearance train tracks during traffic hours, but did not flag out such safety issues to SMRT management, so that the management can decide on whether an audit or review should be conducted.

Mr Chan Yew Kwong, director of MOM's Occupational Safety and Health Inspectorate, said, "As director of Control Operations, Teo Wee Kiat has the ultimate responsibility to ensure SMRT employees complied with the mandated operating procedures."

"Despite knowing that the operating procedures for track access have not been complied with, he did not take any action to ensure compliance or to review the operating procedures. He has failed in his duties, and must be held accountable for his negligence."

SMRT Trains was given a record fine of $400,000 on Feb 28 this year for a similar offence as Teo's.

However, many netizens expressed that the conclusion to the unfortunate accident is unsatisfactory to them.

Joseph Kee wrote, "Shouldn't this penalty be extended right to the top, including the transport minister? You mean Transport Minister does not know rules were not followed? If he does not know, he should be fined even more, perhaps resign."

Mervin Boey wrote, "Do not quite understand the rationale of being fined $55,000 which this is paid to the government instead to the affected parties?"

Madhavan Charles wrote, "Normal employee fail to come up with report or misplace an important document are at risks for dismissal from the company. But the rich and influential gets two people killed gets to keep his job. Singapore truly."

Tan Bee Heng wrote, "Life is cheap for the non-elites. This is deemed the case. Elite only fine $55,000 and life remain same. Super elite remain untouchable and still get his million dollars salary! What is happening to our society?"

Robert Lim Wrote, "He should be sacked for being responsible for the death of his two employees on the MRT track and the non-compliant with Unit 3C OP since 2002."

Soh Chiew Pey wrote, "Why is he only fined with $55,000 which he can easily pay off based on his high pay while his workers died! And he still have the cheek to stay on. He should be banned from holding such important roles!"

James Png wrote, "Why fine the employees? The blame should go all the way to the top. Minister of Transport (MOT) and SMRT's CEO should bear the full responsibility."

Vijay V K Anandan wrote, "Give the $55,000 to the family who lost their loved ones la! They die while at work and the money goes to someone else?"

Adrian Oei wrote, "Previously I believe the train driver was sacked. Now the Director of Control pays a fine. Looks like it will stop here. The others like the CEO and the Minister gets away Scot free. I wonder if the whole thing is right. The people at the bottom gets the worst punishment followed by his boss. The Operations Manual notwithstanding, each person in any organisation bears full responsibility. In incidents like this It is an honour for the top dog to leave his post immediately. What say you KBW and General Desmond Quek."

Chien Ronnie wrote, "He should step down from his job to take responsibility for the 2 deaths just like the US Admiral of US fleet who had to quit and no more promotion for the death of 17 sailors under his watch. Just a fine not enough. Is it from taxpayers pocket?"

Peter Tan wrote, "Company will pay the fine no problem not from his own pocket.Still earning a fat pay cheque can continue smoking Cuba cigars and eat musang durian."

Jiang Jialiang Jacky wrote, "Only fine?? Cheap way to escape from jail term. What if the 1 of the 2 decreased was somehow related to you."

Mohd Hussein Mohd Ali wrote, "Should go to jail as a deterrent to all elitists that will possibly indulge in not taking the lives of workers very seriously. Minimum of 5 yrs behind bar should be recommended. In any case, is he a close relative of Teo Chee Hian?"

Sangha Vandana wrote, "He was hired by Desmond from the SAF. Probably SMRT pay for his fine. If court case, worse than that."

Jai Lim wrote, "He is just a scapegoat. Top people know what is happening all the while."

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