Recycling company convicted of failing to ensure safety after probe of 2017 Tuas blaze that killed one worker

SINGAPORE – A company has been convicted of failing to ensure the safety and health of its employees following a probe into a fire and explosion on June 24, 2017, which killed one of its foreign workers and caused serious burn injuries to another.

Chuan Eng Leong Trading failed to conduct comprehensive safety checks and risk assessments, and did not put in place adequate safety measures before its workers started operating a baler machine to crush and compress deodorant canisters.

Among other failings, it was found to have ignored written warnings on the canisters that read “do not puncture or burn can even when empty”. Investigations had found that the canisters contained flammable gases with low flash points like butane, isobutene and propane gases, which became a potent fuel that could be easily ignited.

Mr Chen Qiu, who died in the blast, and the injured worker, Mr Jiang Yongteng, were working at factory premises owned by scrap metal company Tai Hing Metal Ind at 28 Tuas Avenue 10 on June 24, 2017.

According to Straits Times reports on the blaze then, Mr Chen was a 39-year-old Chinese worker from Jiangsu and Mr Jiang, then 27, is from Shandong.

They were tasked to sort and compress the canisters and other scrap material into compact square bales for easier handling.

The factory facility was tenanted to three recycling companies, namely Evergreen Waste Management, Total Recycling and Chuan Eng Leong Trading.

Prior to the fire and subsequent explosion, four of Chuan Eng Leong Trading’s workers, including Mr Chen and Mr Jiang, had been working near the baler machine, using it to compress around 200kg, or 10 bales of aerosol canisters.

They were compressing the 11th bale of deodorant canisters when a fire broke out, followed by an explosion – with the blaze engulfing the factory and surrounding dumpsters.

Investigations showed Chuan Eng Leong Trading had ignored written warnings on the deodorant canisters that read “do not puncture or burn can even when empty”.

Workers were also instructed to continue with their work, even as clear warning signs were neglected, including a strong aromatic scent emitting from the aerosol canisters that indicated a build-up of flammable gases.

Instead, Chuan Eng Leong Trading instructed its workers to position fans to blow the scent away from the machine area, and to place a fire extinguisher near the baler machine.

As a result of the fire and the explosion, both Mr Chen and Mr Jiang sustained second-degree burns and were taken to Singapore General Hospital, where Mr Chen died on June 29, 2017. The cause of death was certified as sepsis and multi-organ failure due to extensive burns.

Mr Jiang was warded in SGH’s burns unit, and subsequently discharged on Aug 7, 2017.

For failing to take measures to ensure the safety and health of its employees by not conducting an adequate risk assessment for compressing works and not implementing effective control measures, Chuan Eng Leong Trading is liable to a fine not exceeding $500,000.

The sentence will be made known at a later date, as the case was adjourned to Sept 8 this year pending resubmissions from Ministry of Manpower prosecutor Lee Kui Bao and the company’s defence counsel.

A separate charge for the same incident against Ng Hock Eng, 66, the director of Chuan Eng Leong Trading, has been temporarily stood down as the court handles the first charge against the company.

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