Shell fined $400,000 over Pulau Bukom fire that injured six workers

Boats sailing past the Pulau Bukom oil refinery. Shell Eastern Petroleum, which carries out refinery works at the facility, was fined $400,000 for an offence under the Workplace Safety and Health Act on Jan 8, 2019. PHOTO: REUTERS

SINGAPORE - 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.

On Tuesday (Jan 8), 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 this is the first case involving a major hazard installation - a place where large quantities of toxic and flammable substances are stored and/or used.

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

Jurong Shipyard was fined the same amount nine months later 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 on Tuesday 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."

Shell said on Tuesday: "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.

"Shell has a goal zero ambition to achieve no harm and no leaks across all of our operations. We are committed to operating responsibly and safely, causing no harm to our staff and contractors. Incidents like this are unacceptable and we are committed - at all levels of our organisation - to continuously strive towards an incident-free workplace."

In September 2011, more than 100 firefighters helped to put out a fire that raged for 32 hours at the Pulau Bukom refinery.

Shell was fined $80,000 the following year for lapses in workplace safety that led to the fire.

Join ST's Telegram channel here and get the latest breaking news delivered to you.