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Fire at Tuas industrial unit: 3 workers dead, 5 in critical condition

​SINGAPORE — Three workers have died after a fire broke out at an industrial unit in Tuas on Wednesday (Feb 24) and five others are in critical condition.

The Singapore Civil Defence Force responded to a fire at 32E Tuas Avenue 11 at about 11.25am on Feb 24, 2021.

The Singapore Civil Defence Force responded to a fire at 32E Tuas Avenue 11 at about 11.25am on Feb 24, 2021.

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  • The identities of the workers who died from a fire at Tuas are still being determined
  • Preliminary investigations revealed that a combustible dust explosion caused the blaze
  • The dust in this case was potato starch in powder form
  • The three deaths bring to 10 the total number of fatalities related to workplace accidents so far in February

 

SINGAPORE — Three workers have died after a fire broke out at an industrial unit in Tuas on Wednesday (Feb 24) and five others are in critical condition. 

Two other workers from an opposite unit who received medical attention have been discharged.

Mr Silas Sng, commissioner for workplace safety and health at the Ministry of Manpower (MOM), said in a press briefing on Thursday that the identities of the deceased are still being determined owing to the extensive injuries they sustained. 

Speaking to reporters at the site of the fire at 32E Tuas Avenue 11, Mr Sng, who is also director of MOM's occupational safety and health division, said that a combustible dust explosion caused the blaze. 

Based on preliminary investigations, the dust in this case was potato starch in powder form, one of the materials used by the company that occupied the unit for its products.

MOM said that the unit’s occupant was Stars Engrg, which deals with fire protection systems. 

Mr Sng said: “Dust can be generated during the transfer of these powders, such as from the bag into the mixer. And, over time, the dust can accumulate in the environment, especially if the ventilation or the housekeeping is inadequate... to reduce the concentration in the air.

“When the dust comes into contact with a source of ignition, an explosion will occur, as we saw in this accident.”

He did not specify the source of ignition that sparked the explosion. 

Mr John Ng, the chairman of the Workplace Safety and Health Council, said on Thursday that it had called for firms to take a “safety timeout”.

The non-mandatory timeout, which can last up to a day, allows firms to pause work and review their processes such as in machinery operations or maintenance.

“This is important and I urge all companies to have that timeout to have a look at their processes, so that safety management measures can be put in place to safeguard all our workers,” he added.

 

Preliminary investigations revealed that a combustible dust explosion caused the blaze at an industrial unit in Tuas. Photo: Singapore Civil Defence Force

Mr Melvin Yong, the assistant secretary-general of the National Trades Union Congress, said that the labour movement is concerned with the recent spate of workplace accidents that resulted in 10 fatalities since the start of February.

Mr Zaqy Mohamad, Senior Minister of State for Manpower, said in a Facebook post on Monday that there had been  seven fatal workplace accidents so far in February — an "extremely alarming" figure compared with 30 deaths for the whole of last year. That was before the latest three deaths from the fire.

Mr Yong reinforced what  he said in December, particularly about companies rushing to complete work that had been backlogged since the partial lockdown period last year and potentially neglecting safety measures.

“There are also concerns about manpower adequacy for certain high-risk tasks due to safe management measures. For example, some work that is typically done by five workers may now be performed by fewer workers due to split team arrangements,” he said.

Mr Sng said that MOM would step up its enforcement and engagement with the industry.

He also urged all companies undertaking similar operations involving combustible materials in powder form to review their safety procedures and ventilation systems to ensure that dust does not accumulate in an enclosed environment. 

Asked whether certain lapses had contributed to the fire and if the incident could be avoided, Mr Sng said that all accidents were preventable. 

He declined further comment as the fire is being investigated. 

The Singapore Civil Defence Force (SCDF) responded to the blaze at 32E Tuas Avenue 11 at about  11.25am on Wednesday. About 65 people from neighbouring units in the Tuas building self-evacuated before the SCDF arrived.

Eight people with burn injuries were taken to the Singapore General Hospital. Two others sustained minor injuries, the Migrant Workers’ Centre said. The centre is a non-governmental organisation that works to promote fair employment practices and the well-being of migrant workers in Singapore. 

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fire SCDF industrial unit Tuas MOM death

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