In the wake of Aloysius Pang’s death in the beginning of this year, all crew of the Singapore Self-Propelled Howitzer (SSPH) will now have to practise emergency stop button drills before operating it, as well as put up bold marking to highlight the safe and potentially dangerous areas in the SSPH.
Adding to that, army technicians are now also required to do a nine-step drill before their maintenance training and task in order to review any potential risks, dry runs are conducted and roles and responsibilities are made clear.
These precaution steps were said by Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen in Parliament today (6 May) as he divulged the findings of the independent Committee of Inquiry (COI) that was set up to investigate the death of Corporal First Class (NS) Pang.
On 23 January, Singapore Armed (SAF) Operationally Ready National Serviceman, Corporal First Class (National Service) [CFC (NS)] Pang Wei Chong, Aloysius passed away in New Zealand after sustaining serious injuries while carrying out repair works inside the SSPH, four days earlier.
The 28-year-old was hurt when the gun barrel was lowered, and was rushed to Waikato Hospital where he underwent a number of surgeries to treat his wounds, before succumbing to his injuries.
Speaking at the Parliament, Dr Ng said, “We need a strong SAF that can defend Singapore, but it must and can be built up without compromising the safety and well-being of our national servicemen. The SAF is committed to continue strengthening its safety system at all levels and down to our soldiers, aircrew and sailors”.
Another measure raised is to have all army soldiers, including operationally ready national servicemen (NSmen) to take an annual safety test which was previously required only for commanders.
By doing these tests, it will raise awareness of safety measures, and it be customised based on the soldiers’ level of experience and training activities that they undergo.
According to the findings gathered by the COI, it was found that the accident involving Pang occurred due to lapses of all three servicemen in the cabin of the SSPH at that time, including Pang.
The findings also revealed that the gun commander, who lowered the barrel to a standby position, had checked the surrounding and saw Pang standing near the barrel, but assumed that he would have the time to move away.
However, when told by a regular technician who was standing close by to move nearer to him or to a safe position, Pang had said that it was alright and the gun barrel would not hit him, the COI also found.
The SSPH, which is handled by four crew members, has three emergency stop buttons and they are near the reach of the gun commander, charge loader and ammo loader.
Last Thursday, the media were invited to witness how maintenance trainees practice to remove a generator from a power pack that was removed from a Bionix vehicle in their training. They also had to go through a safety drill, called Think-Check-Do to make sure everyone is clear with the task.
The trainees have to undergo 12 weeks of technical training at the school with a focus on safety, said Military Expert 5 Lawrence Ng, commanding officer of the Ordnance Engineering Training Institute Engineering School.
Following Pang’s death, the SAF called for an army-wide safety timeout and reduce the tempo of training in the army, navy and air force services. Since that, the Think-Check-Do drill has been formalised and taught to all technicians.
“I believe in zero accidents. On my end, I engage my trainers and trainees actively. And I imbue in them this mindset that zero accident is possible… With the Think-Check-Do drill enforced, I believe we can achieve that,” ME5 Ng said.
ME3 Dan Lu, who is a trainer at the same Institute mentioned that he will come forward if he sees his trainees take shortcuts.
“We allow the trainees to clarify on the rationale of why the maintenance manual is being written this way. If we realise that there’s a better way, we will write in for approval to change the technical manual. If not, we will explain to the trainees and hope they will understand how this works, so that we can thus strengthen their personal ownership for safety,” he explained.