SMRT fined $400,000 for safety lapses: Is this normal?
by Lee Chin Wee
ON TUESDAY (Feb 28), SMRT Trains was fined a record $400,000 for breaches in safety protocol that resulted in the deaths of two employees on Mar 22 last year. The company pleaded guilty to one charge under the Workplace Safety and Health Act (WSHA) for failing to ensure the safety and health of its employees.
Trainees Mr Nasrulhudin Majumudin, 26, and Mr Muhammad Asyraf Ahmad Buhari, 24, were on the train tracks between Tampines and Pasir Ris MRT stations when they were hit and killed by an oncoming train. SMRT later admitted that maintenance staff had not followed established safety procedures: non-safety-compliant track access had become a habit in the company.
Critics have pointed out that the record-setting $400,000 fine is chump change for a company that posted an FY2016 net profit of $109.3 million. So how does the court’s ruling on SMRT’s breach of the WSHA compare to past charges of fatal workplace safety and health breaches?
Nicoll Highway collapse
- On 20 April 2004, the temporary retaining wall system supporting the excavation of a Circle Line MRT tunnel adjacent to the Nicoll Highway gave way. The resulting collapse caused a 100m section of Nicoll Highway to cave in, killing crane operator Mr Vadivil Nadeson, 44, construction worker Mr Liu Rong Quan, 37, inspector of works Mr Tan Lock Yong, 56, and construction supervisor Mr Heng Yeow Pheow, 40.
- Nishimatsu Construction Company, the main contractor on the worksite, was handed the maximum fine of $200,000 after pleading guilty to one charge under the Factories Act. It admitted that its design errors had resulted in a retaining wall at the worksite being too weak.
- Four individuals were also charged under the Factories Act. Mr Paul Broome, an engineer with Nishimatsu, was fined $160,000 for failing to ensure the worksite was soundly constructed and properly maintained. Design manager Kazuo Shimada and project director Shun Sugawara were fined $160,000 and $120,000 respectively. Former Land Transport Authority project director Ng Seng Yoong was fined $8,000 for failing to exercise due diligence in monitoring excavation works and assessing readings of instruments that monitored the work.
Changes to legislation on workplace safety
The Factories Act was in effect at the time of the Nicoll Highway collapse. Under the Act:
- In relation to a contravention which results in the death of 2 or more persons, the person guilty of an offence shall be liable on conviction to a fine not exceeding $200,000 or to imprisonment for a term not exceeding 12 months or to both.
On 1 Mar 2006, the Factories Act was replaced by the Workplace Safety and Health Act, which imposed harsher penalties on errant employers for workplace safety and health breaches:
- For an individual offender, the maximum fine for a first conviction is $200,000; and is $400,000 for a repeat offence. Maximum imprisonment of 2 years (can be either a fine or imprisonment, or both).
- For a corporate offender, the maximum fine for a first conviction is $500,000; and is $1 million for a repeat offence.
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Two deaths at Fusionopolis Way, Buona Vista
- On 22 Jan 2014, GS Engineering and Construction Corporation employees Mr Rajib Md Abdul Hannan, 24, and Mr Ratan Roy Abinash Roy, 28, fell to the ground while loading an 800kg air compressor onto an unsecured platform at the construction of two towers at Fusionopolis Way in Buona Vista.
- The two Bangladeshi men died of multiple injuries. They were ordered to perform the task despite concerns that it was dangerous to do so since the loading platform was not secured to a building structure.
- GS Engineering and Construction Corporation was initially fined $150,000, but this was increased to $250,000 on appeal by prosecutors. The appeal was the first ever for an offence under the WSHA.
Severe workplace safety and health breaches abroad
- On 5 Oct 1999, a Thames Trains carriage passed through red signal at Ladbroke Grove and into the path of the oncoming Paddington-bound First Great Western (later owned by Network Rail) express. Both drivers were killed, as well as 29 passengers, and 400 others were injured.
- It transpired that the same red signal (SN109) had been passed eight times in the previous six years, with no action being taken. Thames Trains was fined £2 million in 2004. In 2007, Network Rail was fined £4 million for health and safety breaches.
- On 24 Aug 2011, Olive McFarland, 82, was struck while using the Gipsy Lane footpath crossing by a Network Rail inter-city train travelling at 100mph from London to Norwich.
- Investigations found Network Rail had failed to act on substantial evidence that pedestrians had poor visibility of trains when approaching Gipsy Lane footpath crossing, and were exposed to an increased risk of being struck by a train. Network Rail was fined £4 million for breaches of health and safety law.
- On 22 Feb 2014, 18-year-old Australian Mitchell Callaghan tried to board a city-bound train at Heyington station in Toorak, on the Glen Waverley line. As the train departed, Mr Callaghan fell through the gap between the train and the platform and died as a result of his injuries.
- Metro Trains Melbourne has been charged with two breaches of the Rail Safety Act (2006). Each charge carries a maximum fine of almost AU$1.4 million. The case is currently being heard in court.
Featured image from TMG file.
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