Hazardous waste treatment firm fined $230,000 for safety lapses

The fire at Eco Special Waste Management's Tuas plant on Feb 23, 2017. It broke out when a worker was discharging recovered liquid hexane from a product tank into a plastic intermediate bulk container.
The fire at Eco Special Waste Management's Tuas plant on Feb 23, 2017. It broke out when a worker was discharging recovered liquid hexane from a product tank into a plastic intermediate bulk container.PHOTO: EPA-EFE

Eco Special Waste Management was fined $230,000 on Aug 20 for failing to ensure the safety and health of employees at its hazardous waste treatment facility at 23 Tuas View Circuit, the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) said in a statement yesterday.

This follows an investigation by MOM into an incident at the facility on Feb 23, 2017.

At 6.10am that day, a flash fire broke out when a worker was discharging recovered liquid hexane from a product tank into a plastic intermediate bulk container through a flexible metallic hose.

Attempts by workers to extinguish the flash fire failed and it spread rapidly within the site, as there were other flammable solvents present.

All workers at the site were safely evacuated and the fire was brought under control by the Singapore Civil Defence Force at 11am.

While nobody was injured, the facility was badly damaged.

MOM's investigations found that Eco had failed to conduct a risk assessment to ensure that the highly flammable liquid hexane could be safely stored in the plastic intermediate bulk containers.

 
 

These containers were found to be unsuitable for safe storage, as they could not dissipate the electrostatic charges generated during the discharging of hexane.

The charges ignited the flammable hexane vapour-air mixture, causing the fire.

Eco had also failed to ensure that its workers followed safe operating procedures.

Hexane and xylene, another flammable liquid, spilt onto the floor during previous work processes and were not immediately cleaned up.

The spillage formed flammable vapours in the area, fuelling the spread of the fire.

Mr Go Heng Huat, MOM's director of the major hazards department, said: "Companies in hazardous waste treatment business must ensure that a comprehensive risk assessment of their work processes is conducted and all necessary risk control measures are implemented.

"They also have the duty to ensure that workers understand and adhere to safe operating procedures at all times. MOM will not hesitate to prosecute companies that disregard hazards at the workplaces and contravene safety regulations."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 29, 2019, with the headline 'Hazardous waste treatment firm fined $230,000 for safety lapses'. Print Edition | Subscribe