Recycling firm fined $250,000 over 2017 Tuas blaze that killed one worker

Chuan Eng Leong Trading did not put in place adequate safety measures.
Chuan Eng Leong Trading did not put in place adequate safety measures.PHOTO: SINGAPORE CIVIL DEFENCE FORCE/FACEBOOK

SINGAPORE - A recycling company was fined $250,000 on Thursday (Jan 21) over a fire and an explosion in Tuas, which occurred on June 24, 2017 and led to the death of one of its workers.

Chinese national Chen Qiu, 39, died from sepsis and multi-organ failure due to extensive burns.

His colleague, Mr Jiang Yongteng, 27, who is also a Chinese national, suffered second-degree burns but survived.

Chuan Eng Leong Trading was convicted last year of failing to ensure the safety and health of its employees.

The court heard that it had failed to conduct comprehensive safety checks and risk assessments.

The firm also 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 like butane, isobutene and propane. Such gases have low flash points and become potent fuels that can be easily ignited.

The two men were working on factory premises owned by scrap metal company Tai Hing Metal Ind in Tuas Avenue 10 shortly before the incident in July 2017.

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

Besides Chuan Eng Leong Trading, the factory facility was also tenanted to two other recycling companies - Evergreen Waste Management and Total Recycling.

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 the written warnings on the deodorant canisters.

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 suffered second-degree burns and were taken to Singapore General Hospital, where Mr Chen died on June 29, 2017.

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

For failing to take measures to ensure the safety of its employees, Chuan Eng Leong Trading could have been fined up to $500,000.