Government Accepts Recommendations by the Tuas Explosion Inquiry Committee
1. The Inquiry Committee (IC) appointed to look into the fatal explosion and fire at 32E Tuas Avenue 11 on 24 February 2021 has submitted its report to the Minister for Manpower. After carefully reviewing the IC’s recommendations, the Government has accepted all of them.
2. On 24 February 2021, eight workers at manufacturing company Stars Engrg Pte Ltd (“Stars Engrg”) were preparing a mixer machine to mix potato starch powder with heated water, in order to produce a compound to manufacture fire retardant sheets. An explosion occurred in the process, killing three workers, injuring seven others, and causing severe damage to the building structure.
3. After examining eyewitness accounts, post-explosion investigations, physical tests, numerical simulations, and evidence presented during public hearings, the IC concluded that the explosion was primarily brought about by Stars Engrg’s failure and dereliction of duty to ensure the safe use of the mixer machine. Their actions resulted in excessive pressure on the machine’s oil jacket, causing mechanical failure and rupture of the welds. Despite multiple warning signs that the machine could pose a risk to safety and health, such as oil leaks and fires, Stars Engrg did not properly investigate these incidents before allowing the machine to continue operating.
4. The explosion of the mixer machine also ignited accumulated combustible powders in the workplace which led to secondary flash fires.
Potential Criminal Liability
5. Due to these findings, the IC’s Chairman was further of the view that criminal offences have been disclosed under the Workplace Safety and Health Act (WSHA) and Penal Code in respect of acts and/or omissions by Stars Engrg, its sole director Chua Xing Da, and its production manager Lwin Moe Tun.
6. A copy of the IC’s report has been forwarded to the Public Prosecutor pursuant to section 26(6) of the WSHA and the IC’s Terms of Reference. The Public Prosecutor is currently studying the report.
7. The IC noted that the existing WSHA regime already lays out comprehensive general duties on various stakeholders to ensure safety and health of workers. Due to the wide variety of industrial machines and combustible powders used in the industry, the IC is minded not to recommend knee-jerk reactions that could result in over-regulation and impose excessive regulatory burden on the economy.
8. Nevertheless, the IC recommended several enhancements to the existing WSH regime to prevent the recurrence of another similar tragic accident (a summary can be found in the Annex).
9. For example, the IC recommended that buyers of industrial equipment certify their equipment to an industry safety standard. This will serve as an additional safeguard especially if the supplier is not from an established source, or if the equipment is not installed or commissioned by the manufacturer or its agent. Such a certification will be deemed a reasonably practicable measure that the companies had taken to fulfil their WSH Act duties to ensure the safe operation of their machines.
10. The IC also further recommended expanding the duties of manufacturers, suppliers and persons who installed such machines to cover a broader class of machines, such as those powered by mechanical, electrical, hydraulic or pneumatic energy. These recommendations will further strengthen upstream controls to ensure industrial machines are safe when properly installed and used.
11. On the management of combustible dusts, the IC noted that guidelines are already available1. Hence, the recommendations focused on enhancing risk identification, and ensuring stakeholders are aware of such hazards so that they can implement measures to mitigate the risks. The IC recommended informing users about these hazards through package labelling and requiring companies to notify their landlord and the authorities if they are handling a substantial amount of combustible dusts. Due to the wide range of combustible dusts used in the industry, such communications will be key to prevent unintended explosions.
12. Finally, the IC also recommended that more outreach and guidance efforts be conducted, specifically directed towards SMEs, as well as bring in unions to help with targeted outreach and education to workers who may be at risk.
13. Full details of the IC’s findings and recommendations can be found at https://go.gov.sg/tuasicreport.