SINGAPORE – A landscaping firm, linked to a 2016 explosion that left two of its employees with severe burn injuries, was fined $220,000 on Wednesday (Aug 14) for failing to take adequate safety measures.
Two Bangladeshi construction workers of Environmental Landscape, Mr Rahman Mohammad Ataur, 21, and Mr Miah Sobuj, 19, were deployed to clean an underground tank in Lorong Semangka, near Old Choa Chu Kang Road, on July 25 that year.
The tank was 3.2m deep and was accessible by a ladder placed through the only open manhole at the time.
The two workers entered the tank even though tests had not been done to assess whether there were any flammable or toxic gases in the vicinity.
Mr Rahman then switched on a socket extension to activate a floodlight, sparking an explosion so powerful that it flung a third Bangladeshi, Mr Uddin Mohammad Riaz, out of the entrance of the tank as he was climbing down the ladder.
Mr Uddin, 27, an agritechnology worker, suffered burns but his injuries were not as serious as the ones sustained by the other two Bangladeshis.
Court documents did not reveal details about the pair’s injuries but earlier media reports said Mr Rahman suffered third-degree burns on 73 per cent of his body.
It was reported that he had to undergo skin grafts and needed reconstruction surgery for parts of his body, including his nose, lips and ears.
Environmental Landscape was represented by lawyer Fazal Mohamed Abdul Karim, who told the court that Mr Rahman’s medical treatment provided by the Singapore General Hospital (SGH) amounted to more than $434,000, while Mr Miah’s bill was more than $432,000.
The lawyer told District Judge Carol Ling that Mr Uddin’s medical expenses were covered under work injury compensation insurance.
However, the two younger men’s medical expenses exceeded the coverage provided by their work injury compensation insurance.
Mr Fazal added: “After payments were made by the company, the balance SGH claimed amounted to $801,450.81… The company approached SGH to negotiate a settlement whereby the company would provide a total sum of $799,450.81, payable in (different) tranches.”
The three Bangladeshi have since left Singapore.
Environmental Landscape was convicted of an offence under the Workplace Safety and Health Act last month.
Ministry of Manpower (MOM) prosecuting officer Lee Kui Bao said that at around 6.30pm on July 25, 2016, the trio and their colleague, Mr Alagappan Vignesh, 23, were instructed by their supervisor, Hossan Billal, 30, to clear residual water from the tank.
The court heard that Mr Alagappan, an Indian national, did not enter the tank as it was his first day at work and he was supposed to familiarise himself with the job.
The explosion soon occurred after Mr Rahman switched on the socket extension, the court heard.
Mr Lee said: “The impact of the explosion threw Uddin out of the entrance of the confined space and propelled the ladder a distance away from it. Uddin then ran and dived into a nearby pond, about 10 to 15 metres away from the tank to douse the burning sensations on his body.”
The other two Bangladeshis eventually managed to climb out of the tank using the ladder, which had been reinserted into the entrance and the men were taken to hospital.
In a statement on Wednesday, MOM said the trio and Mr Alagappan were not trained to work within a confined space.
They were also not informed of the risks involved, such as oxygen deficiency or the build-up of flammable gases that could lead to an explosion.
The four men were also not informed of the safety precautions that should have been taken.
The ministry said: “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 the mitigation plea, Mr Fazal told the court that each injured worker received compensation for the injuries they sustained.
The lawyer said his client compensated Mr Rahman a sum of $137,451.30. Mr Miah received $56,273.32, while Mr Uddin had been given $4,094.84, the court heard.
Mr Fazal said: “In the case of (Mr Rahman), whose injuries were the most serious, the company hired and paid for a caregiver to specially care for (his) daily needs after he was discharged from SGH on Dec 2, 2016.
“It is clear… that the company did not abandon the three workers. On the contrary, the company went above and beyond any obligation at law to ensure that they received the appropriate care to allow them to properly recover from their injuries.”
Hossan, who is also a Bangladeshi, has been charged with an offence under the Workplace Safety and Health Act, and his case is still pending.
MOM’s director of occupational safety and health inspectorate Sebastian Tan said in the statement that 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.
He added: “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.”
For committing the offence under the Act, Environmental Landscape could have been fined up to $500,000.