Firm fined $220,000 over explosion that injured three

Landscaping company failed to take safety measures, leading to workers suffering burns

A landscaping firm linked to a 2016 explosion that left two of its employees with severe burn injuries was fined $220,000 yesterday 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 Bangla-deshi, 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 the work injury compensation insurance.

 
 

But the two younger men's medical expenses exceeded the coverage provided by their work injury compensation insurance.

Mr Fazal said: "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 Bangladeshis 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.

In a statement yesterday, MOM said the trio and Mr Alagappan were not trained to work within a confined space. They were not informed of the risks involved, such as oxygen deficiency or the build-up of flammable gases that could lead to an explosion. The men were also not told 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."

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.

For committing the offence under the Act, Environmental Landscape could have been fined up to $500,000.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 15, 2019, with the headline 'Firm fined $220,000 over explosion that injured three'. Print Edition | Subscribe