NEA, two employees charged over fatal explosion at Tuas Incineration Plant in 2021


SINGAPORE: The National Environment Agency (NEA) and two of its employees have been charged under the Workplace Safety and Health Act for their involvement in an explosion at Tuas Incineration Plant in 2021, said the Attorney-General’s Chambers (AGC) and Ministry of Manpower (MOM) on Tuesday (Dec 26).

The incident resulted in the death of two NEA officers – Mr Kwok Yeow Wai and Mr Wee Eng Leng – and injuries to another, Mr Low Yin Choon.

On Sep 23, 2021, at about 12pm, a control room at the incineration plant was unable to remotely switch off an industrial fan. Three NEA officers were sent to troubleshoot the fault. 

The three men were in an electrical switch room when the explosion occurred, said AGC and MOM. A 65-year-old senior engineering manager was pronounced dead at the scene. Another NEA officer, an executive engineering manager, died three days later. “Their passing continues to be deeply felt by the NEA community,” said NEA on Tuesday.

The third officer was sent to hospital for burn injuries and was subsequently discharged. He has since recovered and returned to work, said the agency.

THE CHARGES

NEA is alleged to have failed to take measures to ensure the safety and health of its employees, such as ensuring that the Permit-to-Work system implemented for high voltage switchgear racking works complied with prevailing regulations, said AGC and MOM.

The charges also allege that NEA failed to adequately implement control measures and establish safe work procedures for high voltage switchgear racking works.

NEA said it would study the charge with its legal counsel.

Ng Wah Yong, the general manager of Tuas Incineration Plant, is alleged to have negligently endangered the safety of others by failing to ensure that the Permit-to-Work system implemented for high voltage switchgear racking works complied with the prevailing regulations, that control measures were adequately implemented, and that safe work procedures for high voltage switchgear racking works were established.

Another NEA employee, Lee Yew Binn, Christopher, is alleged to have negligently endangered the safety of others by approving a Permit-to-Work system for high voltage switchgear racking works that did not comply with the prevailing regulations.

NEA has redeployed Ng and Lee to non-operational roles pending the outcome of the proceedings, the agency said on Tuesday.

Tuas Incineration Plant was decommissioned in 2022. 

Minister for Sustainability and the Environment (MSE) Grace Fu said after the charging she will make a ministerial statement during the next parliament sitting in January to address the incident and charges. 

“It (incident) was an extremely sad and painful incident for all of us in the MSE family,” she said in a Facebook post on Tuesday. “We continue to mourn the loss of our two colleagues.”

NEA is a statutory board under MSE.

Employers who are found guilty of breaching their duty to take reasonably practicable measures to ensure the safety and health of employees can be fined up to S$500,000 (US$378,000).

A person found guilty of committing a negligent act which endangers the safety and health of others can be jailed up to two years, fined up to S$30,000, or both.

The cases against NEA and the officers are due to be mentioned in court again on Feb 20, according to court records.



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