MOM slaps $230,000 fine on hazardous waste treatment firm for putting workers in danger

On Feb 23, 2017, at 6.10am, a worker was discharging recovered liquid hexane from a product tank into a plastic intermediate bulk container through a flexible metallic hose, when a flash fire broke out.
On Feb 23, 2017, at 6.10am, a worker was discharging recovered liquid hexane from a product tank into a plastic intermediate bulk container through a flexible metallic hose, when a flash fire broke out.PHOTO: LIANHE ZAOBAO

SINGAPORE - Eco Special Waste Management was fined $230,000 on Aug 20 for failing to ensure the safety and health of its employees at its hazardous waste treatment facility at 23 Tuas View Circuit, the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) said in a statement on Wednesday (Aug 28).

On Feb 23, 2017, at 6.10am, a worker was discharging recovered liquid hexane from a product tank into a plastic intermediate bulk container through a flexible metallic hose, when a flash fire broke out.

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

All workers at the worksite were safely evacuated. The fire was brought under control by the Singapore Civil Defence Force at 11am. While nobody was injured, the hazardous waste treatment facility was badly damaged.

The MOM investigations found that Eco failed to conduct a risk assessment to examine if the highly flammable liquid hexane could be safely stored in the plastic intermediate bulk containers. These containers were not suitable for safe storage, as they could not dissipate the electrostatic charges generated during the discharging of hexane. Hence, the charges ignited the flammable hexane vapour-air mixture, causing the fire.

Eco also failed to ensure that its workers followed safe operating procedures. Hexane and xylene, another flammable liquid, were spilled onto the floor during previous work processes and were not immediately cleaned up. These spilled liquids 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," he added.