Oil company Shell Eastern Petroleum was fined $400,000 on Tuesday (8 January) over a 2015 fire at its Pulau Bukom petroleum refinery that caused six workers to suffer varying degrees of burns.
According to a Ministry of Manpower (MOM) statement, Shell was charged under the Workplace Safety and Health Act for failing to implement adequate control measures to ensure compatibility of works carried out at the refinery.
Simultaneous maintenance and project works
On 21 August 2015, two groups of workers were simultaneously conducting maintenance and project works on a crude distillation unit at the refinery.
The first group of workers was carrying out hot works on a scaffold, including using a blow cutting torch from an oxy-acetylene cylinder to cut and dismantle existing pipes.
The other group of workers was carrying out cold works at the ground level along a hydrocarbon solvent line, which involved removing a joint connection to a valve and connecting a hose to the valve to drain out residual flammable hydrocarbons inside the pipeline into a nearby pit.
When one of the workers opened the valve to start the draining process, flammable vapours from the draining of hydrocarbons came into contact with the sparks from the hot works. Although the worker was alerted and immediately closed the valve, a fire still broke out.
In the process of escaping the blaze, six workers suffered varying degrees of burns, with two of them suffering about 50 per cent and 70 per cent burns. The fire was contained and extinguished by the Bukom Emergency Response Team within 30 minutes.
Oversight in checking compatibility of work activities
Investigations revealed that Shell had failed to check for compatibility of the 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 was ignited by sparks from the hot works.
Go Heng Huat, the Ministry of Manpower’s director of the major hazards department, said, “The refinery, as a major hazard installation, must properly manage safety and risk control measures. The lives of workers and the public could have been put at risk because adequate control measures were not properly implemented,” said the Go Heng Huat, director of MOM’s major hazards department.
“Even though there was no loss of life in this case, the potential for more severe consequences was evident.”
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