Waste management company fined $135,000 over blast and fire which injured three workers

The resulting fire from the explosion spread to an area the size of about two football fields.
The resulting fire from the explosion spread to an area the size of about two football fields.PHOTO: ST FILE

SINGAPORE - A waste management company was fined $135,000 on Tuesday over a worksite blast which injured three of its workers.

Veolia Environmental Services Singapore pleaded guilty in a district court to a charge of contravening the Workplace Safety and Health Act by failing to conduct thorough testing of a waste liquid before mixing it with a chemical liquid.

It caused an explosion at its Tuas incineration plant on Nov 8, 2013, and the resulting fire spread to an area the size of about two football fields.

A total of 60 firefighters spent 90 minutes putting out the main fire, and took another four hours extinguishing the remaining pockets of the blaze.

A 31-year-old assistant operations manager suffered third-degree burns to two thirds of his body, while a 42-year-old chemical operator had second-degree burns on up to 30 per cent of his, with his face and arms badly affected.

A 50-year-old chemical operator sustained minor burns.

The court heard that the three employees were mixing the waste liquid and chemical liquid for safety reasons. They were about 20m away from the incinerator area when highly flammable colourless fumes were released and a loud explosion occurred.

A fire ensued and rapidly spread through the plant, even affecting nearby companies.

Investigations found the batch of waste liquid had been contaminated with a highly volatile chemical substance.

Ministry of Manpower prosecuting officer Delvinder Singh said Veolia had failed to ensure that risk assessment as well as standard operating procedures had been established.

The waste liquid had also not been tested, contravening Veolia's internal practice, and flammable gas detectors were not used to monitor the work environment.

Mr Singh urged the court to impose a fine of at least $150,000, noting that it was fortunate that no deaths occurred.

Veolia's lawyer Augustine Liew asked the court for a fine in the range of $30,000 to $40,000. He said the assistant operations manager who suffered burns to two-thirds of his body had his $800,000 medical fees paid for by the company.

Mr Liew added that the global company, which was incorporated in Singapore in 1987, has a very good safety record.

For failing to take necessary measures to ensure the health and safety of its employees, Veolia could have been fined up to $500,000.