Singapore deadly explosion: company, manager and production manager charged with workplace safety violations

Members of a Board of Inquiry visiting the site at 32nd Tuas Avenue 11, where an explosion and fire killed and injured several workers on February 24, 2021. ― TODAY pic

Friday July 22, 2022 09:42 MYT

SINGAPORE, July 22 – A company that operated an industrial plant in Tuas, where three workers were killed and seven others injured in an explosion and fire last year, was charged yesterday (July 21) with safety violations at work.

This came several months after a commission of inquiry uncovered possible criminal conduct by Stars Engrg, its one-time manager Chua Xing Da, and production manager Lwin Moe Tun.

Chua, a 38-year-old Singaporean, and Lwin Moe Tun, a 32-year-old Burmese, were also charged on Tuesday with workplace safety offences.

They are also charged with obstruction of justice, in connection with Lwin Moe Tun’s deletion of WhatsApp messages between him and one of the workers who died in the blast on February 24 last year.

The explosion and fire at the industrial building at 32 Tuas Avenue 11 killed three workers who suffered 90% burns: Subbaiyan Marimuthu, 38, from India, as well as Anisuzzaman Md, 29, and Shohel Md, 23, both from Bangladesh.

The site was used as a workshop for the production of fireproof insulating envelopes.

Seven other workers – five from Stars Engrg and two from a nearby unit – were injured in the accident. They suffered severe burns, including burns that covered 35-58% of their total body surface area.

The Board of Inquiry, which released its findings after a week-long hearing into the explosion, found that a mixer had exploded primarily due to the company’s failure and neglect of its duty to ensure its safe use.

This caused excessive pressure on the machine’s oil jacket, causing mechanical failure and rupture of welds.

The machine was used to mix water, potato starch and other materials to make fireclay, a key part of the insulating jacket.

The committee said Stars Engrg failed to properly investigate these incidents and allowed the machine to continue to operate, despite “multiple warning signs that the machine may pose a safety and health risk, such as oil leaks and fires”.

Chua apparently installed and commissioned the mixer purchased from Chinese online retailer Alibaba despite his insufficient knowledge of how the mixer should be used safely.

He was also the person in charge of instructing the workers of Stars Engrg on the handling of the mixing machine, despite having insufficient knowledge.

Expenses

Stars Engrg was charged under the Occupational Safety and Health Act on two counts. Court documents showed that he allegedly failed to ensure that: His employees received adequate training and supervision to operate the heated mixer The mixer was safe to use when used by employees His employees were using in a safe environment This then led to the fatal explosion

As for the two men, Lwin Moe Tun faces three counts in total, while Chua faces two.

Lwin Moe Tun allegedly committed an act of negligence that endangered the safety of Stars Engrg employees by allowing them to carry out repairs to a damaged heater, which was a component of the heated mixer.

As production manager, he oversaw the production of flame retardant envelopes.

Then, two consecutive days after the blast, he allegedly deleted a message and photo of a WhatsApp conversation between him and Marimuthu, one of the deceased employees, from the worker’s mobile phone.

The material showed the dangerous change of a faulty heater and was evidence of a violation of the Occupational Safety and Health Act, according to court documents.

Chua apparently told Lwin Moe Tun that it was “okay” for him to delete the communications.

Experts have previously testified that the mixer’s heating elements may have reached temperatures of up to 1,095 ºC at one point, although the machine was mainly used to heat water with a boiling point of 100 ºC.

Chua was offered bond of S$20,000 (RM64,087), while Lwin Moe Thun was offered bond of S$50,000. They will return to court on August 31.

If found guilty of obstructing the course of justice under the Penal Code, they could be imprisoned for up to seven years or fined, or both.

Stars Engrg could be fined up to S$500,000 if found guilty under the Occupational Safety and Health Act.

Lwin Moe Tun could be jailed for up to two years or fined up to S$30,000, or both, if found guilty of committing a negligent act that endangers his safety or their health or that of others at work. – TODAY