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Company fined $400,000 for fire at Petroleum Refinery in Pulau Bukom

  1. Shell Eastern Petroleum Pte Ltd (“Shell”) was fined $400,000 for a fire at a petroleum refinery in Pulau Bukom (the “refinery”), which occurred on 21 August 2015. Six workers suffered varying degrees of burns as a result of the fire.
  2. Shell was charged under section 11(a) of the Workplace Safety and Health Act for failing to implement adequate control measures to ensure compatibility of works carried out at the refinery.

    Case Details
  3. 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 at various points 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. The cold works involved removing a joint connection to a valve and connecting a hose to the said 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 broke out.
  4. In the process of escaping from the fire, six workers sustained varying degrees of burns. Two workers who were closer to the fire suffered about 50% and 70% burns. The fire was contained and extinguished by the Bukom Emergency Response Team within 30 minutes.
  5. 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 was ignited by sparks from the hot works.
  6. Er. Go Heng Huat, MOM’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. Even though there was no loss of life in this case, the potential for more severe consequences was evident. MOM will continue to strengthen its enforcement of companies’ workplace safety and health practices, including prosecution when there have been infringements that put the lives of workers at risk.”