Former SMRT employee sentenced four weeks imprisonment for failing to ensure necessary safety measures put in place to prevent fatal collision

A former Singapore Mass Rapid Transit (SMRT) in charge of two SMRT employees who were sent onto the train tracks near Pasir Ris station who were killed due to a train collision on the job in March 2016, was sentenced to four weeks’ jail on Monday (12 March).

SMRT Trains assistant engineer Lim Say Heng, 48, pleaded guilty to one charge of causing the deaths of the trainees on 22 March 2016 through a negligent act by failing to ensure that the necessary safety measures were in place and prevent the collision. For his offence, the penalty could have been up to two years of imprisonment or/and fine.

Lim had worked for SMRT since 1999. He had led inspection teams on train tracks on numerous occasions and acted as the person-in-charge since 2003.

He was in charge of a 15-man team tasked with investigating a possible signalling fault between Tampines and Pasir Ris MRT stations on 22 March 2016.

He then led the team onto a walkway parallel to the track to proceed to the work site on foot and without warning incoming trains, instead of taking a train to the work site as required under safety guidelines.

The only safety measure attempted was a handwritten note put up at Tampines MRT station. However, 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 11 am. Lim stepped off the walkway and onto the track at 11.05 am.

Employees in the control room monitoring train movements saw Lim step onto the track and that a train was approaching. An employee then radioed the team, however, 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. However, Trainees Nasrulhudin Najumudin, 25, and Muhammad Asyraf Ahmad Buhari, 24, who were directly behind Lim, had stepped off the walkway too, following the engineer’s lead. Unfortunately, they could not react on time and failed to jump to safety and were hit by the oncoming train, which was travelling at a speed of up to 80km/hour.

The train driver, who only spotted the team just before the collision, was unable to stop the train in time despite applying the emergency brakes. The two trainees were pronounced dead at the scene.

After investigations into the accident, Lim and the driver of the train that killed the men were dismissed by the train operator.

District Judge Chay Yuen Fatt told the court that Lim’s failure to effect a “last line of defence” known as the 0/0 Automatic Train Protection speed code was the most direct cause of death, noting that this protocol, which prevents trains from freely entering the tracks during track inspection, was a “critical safety protocol”.

Deputy public prosecutor (DPP) Anandan Bala said that Lim’s “negligence and dereliction of duty” led  to the death of the two trainees, saying, “None of this would have happened if (Lim) had done what he was supposed to do – take the simple step of checking that the (0/0) code was imposed prior to accessing the track.”

Defence lawyer Lee May Ling argued that a fine of S$10,000 – the maximum amount – would be fair, saying, “He was not solely responsible for the implementation of safety protocols … (and) was not the only person who had failed to abide (by them).”

“In an environment where the employees had to organise themselves to come up with ‘ad-hoc’ procedures for the sake of their own safety, there is a very real possibility of confusion, miscommunication and human error,” she added.

She also pointed to systemic failures at SMRT to enforce safety rules, saying that there were multiple points of responsibility, at least from the fact of the multiple parties charged and convicted.

Ms Lee then stated that Lim had the mistaken belief that safety protocols were in place and did not check whether there were safety arrangements in place before he stepped onto the tracks.

The lawyer also said that Lim’s annual final safety appraisals were fully met or exceeded between 2006 and 2013.

SMRT was fined S$400,000 on 28 February 2017 for safety lapses under Section 12 of the Workplace Safety and Health Act. While, Teo Wee Kiat, 40, one of SMRT’s directors, was also charged under Section 48 (1) of the same Act. The Act states that should an offence be committed by a corporate body, an officer of this body shall be guilty of the offence and be liable to be punished. He was fined $55,000 on 29 September for failing to take necessary measures to ensure the safety of its employees.