Photograph showing the view of the inside of the underground storage tank (Source: MOM).

Company fined $220,000 for accident that left three workers with burn injuries

A local company by the name of Environmental Landscape Pte Ltd was fined $220,000 by the State Courts on Wednesday (14 August) under section 12(1) of the Workplace Safety and Health Act (“WSHA”) for failing to take adequate safety measures for its work in an underground storage tank at 131 Lorong Semangka.

In a press release, the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) described how four workers from Environmental Landscape – Rahman Mohammad Ataur, Miah Sobuj, Uddin Mohammad Riaz, and Alagappan Vignesh – were instructed by Hossan Billal to clean an underground storage tank, a confined space 3.2m deep, that was accessible only via a ladder at the only manhole open at the time on 25 July 2016.

After Miah entered the confined space, Rahman passed him a floodlight and electrical socket and then joined him underground. As it was Vignesh’s first day at work, he stayed above ground to observe and familiarise himself with the job.

As the last worker, Uddin was entering the confined space, Rahman switched on the socket extension to activate the floodlight. This sparked off an explosion which was strong enough to propel Uddin and the ladder out of the confined space’s entrance.

Burnt, Uddin ran and dived into a nearby pool to ease the burning sensations on his body, while other workers assisted Rahman and Miah to climb out of the confined space. Uddin, Miah and Rahman were all conveyed to the hospital to treat their injuries.

MOM then said that its investigations revealed that Environmental Landscape failed to conduct any risk assessment for the work activities related to the cleaning of the confined space.

Critical hazards such as the presence of toxic or flammable gases were not identified nor addressed before the workers entered the confined space to carry out work, it added.

It also noted that all four workers were not trained to work within a confined space. Neither were they informed of the risks involved (e.g. oxygen deficiency/ enrichment, built-up of flammable or toxic gases which could lead to an explosion) and the safety precautions that should have been taken.

The company also failed to develop and implement procedures for dealing with emergencies that might arise while its employees were at work in the confined space.

In connection with the same incident, Hossan was also charged under the WSHA for instructing the workers to perform the cleaning works without ensuring that it was safe for the workers to do so.

Mr Sebastian Tan, MOM’s Director of Occupational Safety and Health Inspectorate, said, “The company had endangered the lives of its workers by requiring them to perform a high-risk job without any training, instruction, safety equipment or emergency rescue system. This blatant disregard for workplace safety and health is unacceptable. We will continue to press for high fines against employers who knowingly put their workers at risk.”