Oil giant Shell fined $400,000 for fire

The fire at Shell's Pulau Bukom petroleum refinery on Aug 21, 2015, left four Indian nationals, a Filipino and a Myanmar national with burns. The Ministry of Manpower said the works of two groups of workers in the same vicinity were not coordinated,
The fire at Shell's Pulau Bukom petroleum refinery on Aug 21, 2015, left four Indian nationals, a Filipino and a Myanmar national with burns. The Ministry of Manpower said the works of two groups of workers in the same vicinity were not coordinated, which led to flammable vapours generated by one group being ignited by sparks from the other, causing the fire.ST FILE PHOTO

Safety lapse in 2015 at refinery on Pulau Bukom resulted in blaze that injured six workers

Oil giant Shell has been fined $400,000 for a health and safety breach that led to a fire at the Pulau Bukom petroleum refinery which left six workers with burns.

Two groups of workers were carrying out different tasks in close proximity, resulting in flammable vapours coming into contact with sparks from a nearby blowtorch on Aug 21, 2015.

Indian nationals Jaswant Singh and Saravarapu Suresh Kumar suffered burns affecting up to 70 per cent of their bodies.

Two other Indian nationals, a Filipino and a Myanmar national also suffered burns. No one died in the incident.

Yesterday, Shell Eastern Petroleum, which carries out refinery works at the facility, became the third company to be fined $400,000 for an offence under the Workplace Safety and Health Act, after pleading guilty last October.

The Straits Times understands that this is the first case involving a major hazard installation - a place where large quantities of toxic and flammable substances are stored or used, or both.

SMRT was fined $400,000 in February 2017 for safety lapses leading to an accident that killed two people near Pasir Ris MRT station the previous year.

INADEQUATE CONTROL MEASURES

The lives of workers and the public could have been put at risk because adequate control measures were not properly implemented. Even though there was no loss of life in this case, the potential for more severe consequences was evident.

MR GO HENG HUAT, Ministry of Manpower's director of the Major Hazards Department.

Jurong Shipyard was fined the same amount in November 2017 over a 2012 incident in which an oil rig tilted, injuring 89 people.

In the current case, Ministry of Manpower (MOM) prosecutor Delvinder Singh told the court that Mr Saravarapu was using a blowtorch from an oxyacetylene cylinder to cut some pipes. Mr Jaswant Singh was assisting him.

Other workers, who performed "cold works", were tasked with removing a joint connection to a valve. When one of the workers opened the valve to start the draining process, flammable vapours came into contact with sparks, causing the fire.

The MOM said yesterday that the blaze was contained and extinguished by the Bukom Emergency Response Team within 30 minutes.

The ministry added: "Investigations revealed that there was a systemic failure in Shell's oversight to check for compatibility of different work activities carried out within the same vicinity at the same time.

"The hot works and cold works carried out by the two groups of workers in the same vicinity were not coordinated, thus creating a situation where flammable vapours generated by the cold works were ignited by sparks from the hot works."

 

In a statement, MOM's director of the Major Hazards Department Go Heng Huat said that the refinery, as a major hazard installation, must properly manage safety and risk-control measures.

Mr Go added: "The lives of workers and the public could have been put at risk because adequate control measures were not properly implemented. Even though there was no loss of life in this case, the potential for more severe consequences was evident.

"MOM will continue to strengthen its enforcement of companies' workplace safety and health practices, including prosecution when there have been infringements that put the lives of workers at risk."

Shell said yesterday: "Since the incident in August 2015, we have extended our full cooperation to the relevant authorities, learnt from the incident and implemented improvements across our site.

"Incidents like this are unacceptable and we are committed - at all levels of our organisation - to continuously strive towards an incident-free workplace."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 09, 2019, with the headline 'Oil giant Shell fined $400,000 for fire'. Print Edition | Subscribe