Tanjong Kling factory fire was accidental: State Coroner

Safhras Khan
The Tanjong Kling factory fire on 12 October 2015. (PHOTO: Twitter)
The Tanjong Kling factory fire on 12 October 2015. (PHOTO: Twitter)

Having lost his wife in an industrial accident in 2015, Ooi Peng Fung’s main priority now is to look after the couple’s one-and-a-half-year-old daughter.

Ooi’s wife Lim Siaw Chian, 30, perished in a fire at the Leeden National Oxygen factory at Tanjong Kling Road on 12 October 2015. Her charred remains were found in the factory by Singapore Civil Defence Force (SCDF) officers and were later identified via her then six-month-old daughter’s DNA.

Speaking to reporters after the coroner’s inquiry into his wife’s death on Friday (30 December) – during which State Coroner Marvin Bay recorded a verdict of industrial misadventure – Ooi was stoic and added that he is thankful for the investigations conducted by the authorities.

“It’s been a painful year and my mum and family are helping me to look after my daughter,” said Ooi. “It is challenging for me as a single parent. The most important thing now is to look after my daughter.”

He added that he hopes the authorities will take action to help prevent such accidents from happening in the future.

Flash followed by an explosion

The court heard that Lim, who had worked at the factory as a chemist since August 2014, was doing some work on a gas cylinder in a laboratory in the factory when an explosion occurred.

One of her colleagues, Charles Henry Seet, was working on his computer when he saw a bright flash followed by a loud explosion. He managed to escape from the room.

Two other men – William Chieng Hoe Wui and Lim Meng Jie – who were also in the laboratory at the time attempted to look for Lim but were unable to locate her. The duo then evacuated the area.

An emergency team from Leeden then entered the lab to suppress the fire and tried to look for Lim but were also unable to find her. Ng Zhen Jian, another of the deceased’s colleagues, tried to call her mobile phone but received no response.

Firefighters were later able to quell the flames and discovered Lim’s remains at the scene.

Fire was accidental

In his findings, State Coroner Bay noted that the fire was accidental in nature. He said investigations by the SCDF and Ministry of Manpower (MOM) showed that the heat generated from a metal structure in the valve assembly connected to the cylinder was the ignition source that sparked the explosion.

He also said that the MOM’s findings indicated that a failure at the weld joint at the bullet stem of the valve resulted in a flammable methane gas-oxygen-nitrogen mix leaking out. The leak could have been ignited by frictional heat, which then led to the explosion.

State Coroner Bay said Lim’s demise underscores the need for companies that store and process volatile substances to be mindful of the dangers involved.

“I am informed and am pleased to note that MOM has sent salient advisories to companies engaged in similar industrial processes to exercise a high degree of vigilance in this regard,” he added.

When asked if he would be taking up a civil action against Leeden, Ooi, who was accompanied by his late wife’s aunt, refused to comment.