NUS suspends lab work for a day after 2 fires

NUS provost Tan Eng Chye had mooted a "Safety Time-Out Day" in response to the two fires at the university this month.
NUS provost Tan Eng Chye had mooted a "Safety Time-Out Day" in response to the two fires at the university this month.

Engineering, science and medical faculties told to review safety procedures

Several faculties at the National University of Singapore (NUS) were told to suspend laboratory activities yesterday in order to review safety after two fires at the university this month.

In an e-mail seen by The Straits Times, the engineering, science and medical faculties were asked to suspend all research activities from 8.30am to 6pm yesterday. They were told to reflect on how to improve safety in their labs instead.

The latest blaze broke out on Wednesday in a walkway at the engineering faculty at about 11.45pm. Nobody was hurt, and the fire was put out before firefighters from the Singapore Civil Defence Force arrived. The cause is being investigated.

The other fire, which was reported in the media, took place on April 4 in another part of the engineering faculty, and led to two people being warded.

"The high number of incidents does warrant extraordinary measures," Dr Peck Thian Guan, director of the NUS Office of Safety, Health and Environment, wrote in an e-mail to faculty deans.

He also urged the engineering, science and medical faculties to do a risk assessment and safety procedure review. They were also asked to check electrical appliances and do house cleaning, including "hazardous material management". NUS provost Tan Eng Chye had mooted a "Safety Time-Out Day" in response to the fires, Dr Peck added in his e-mail.

In response to Straits Times queries, NUS said it has regular audits and inspections to ensure that safety standards are followed. "We will further intensify our fire safety measures and education," it said.

But this must be done in the right way, said some NUS staff.

"Maybe we have too many standard operating procedures for lab safety and too little common sense," said Professor Christian Kurtsiefer of the Centre for Quantum Technologies.

"There should be more emphasis on practical information instead of theoretical education and administrative measures for lab safety. Safety officers could do more to go through labs and teach people what is safe and what is not."

kashc@sph.com.sg