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Landscaping firm and director charged for accident in which worker was severely burnt

SINGAPORE – A landscaping company and two of its officers have been hauled to court for a 2016 workplace accident, in which a foreign worker was severely burnt after he was allegedly pressured to clean an underground water tank that later exploded.

Despite his physical condition, Mr Rahman is currently volunteering at the Humanitarian Organisation for Migration Economics (HOME) where he helps to translate and explain cases to his compatriots from Bangladesh.

Despite his physical condition, Mr Rahman is currently volunteering at the Humanitarian Organisation for Migration Economics (HOME) where he helps to translate and explain cases to his compatriots from Bangladesh.

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SINGAPORE – A landscaping company and two of its officers have been hauled to court for a 2016 workplace accident, in which a foreign worker was severely burnt after he was allegedly pressured to clean an underground water tank that later exploded.

The Ministry of Manpower (MOM) said its preliminary investigations indicated that both the employer and supervisor of Mr Rahman Mohammad Ataur contravened the Workplace Safety and Health Act.

If convicted, his employer, Environmental Landscape, could be fined a maximum of S$500,000. Its director Wong Shang Ling could be jailed for up to two years and/or fined up to S$200,000.

Mr Rahman's supervisor, Hossan Billal, faces a jail term of up to two years and/or a fine of up to S$30,000 for negligence that endangered his safety.

In June 2016, Mr Rahman, now 23, was instructed to clean a water tank in Sungei Tengah that was accessible only through a manhole. The Bangladeshi, who came to Singapore to work in 2015, detected a smell from the tank but was allegedly told not to make excuses and to take along a halogen lamp.

When he flicked the lamp on, there was an explosion and he was engulfed in flames.

He suffered third-degree burns on 73 per cent of his body, including his face, and was in coma for three months. He spent a total of six months in the hospital and had to undergo procedures such as skin grafting for his upper body and fingers. His corneas had to be operated on because his eyes were injured in the blast.

He needed reconstruction surgery for his nose, lips, eyelids, ears and eyebrows, and had some scars reduced through laser.

Mr Rahman recently underwent surgery to elevate his ears so he could make use of spectacles and hearing aids.

The non-governmental organisation, Humanitarian Organisation for Migration Economics (Home), held a crowdfunding campaign several weeks ago for Mr Rahman's medical expenses as his work injury compensation claim had not been processed. The campaign raised more than S$15,000.

His work injury compensation claim came through on June 12 and he received a six-figure sum from his employer's insurer for permanent incapacity.

Mr Rahman said the money was used for his ear surgery. He hopes to undergo more procedures including for his eyebrows, and needs to buy medication and pressure garments for his hands.

His scars from the episode go beyond the physical.

Mr Rahman – who used to earn S$540 in basic monthly salary – said he has to repay the S$16,000 fee he incurred to come to Singapore. His family back in Bangladesh has been harassed and his home, damaged.

Asked about his employer being charged, he said: "I don't get any benefit from them being charged in court and I cannot recover better if they are punished, but I hope something can be done so that everyone can remember that such a situation can happen, and this is not fair to me and to other workers."

He has been volunteering at Home, where he helps to translate and explain cases to other migrant workers.

Home's social work executive Jevon Ng said the organisation is heartened that Mr Rahman's employer is being taken to task, but pointed to other workers who are still being made to work in unsafe conditions without adequate precautions.

"Regular enforcement is needed to instil the importance of safe workplaces to employers," said Mr Ng.

There is also an urgent need to raise the minimum insurance coverage quantum for medical expenses, he said. Current requirements under the Work Injury Compensation Act are often inadequate for medical treatment when serious accidents occur, he said.

"When employers are unable or unwilling to pay for ongoing medical treatment once the … quantum is exceeded, the Ministry of Manpower does not get employers to pay for medical treatments unless it is deemed to be 'immediately medically necessary', which is often not the case," said Mr Ng. This forces medical practitioners to be conservative in their treatment, he added.

The MOM said under the Work Injury Compensation Act, employers are liable to pay for medical expenses and medical leave wages. Mr Rahman's medical bills amounted to over S$300,000 and MOM understands that his employer is presently paying the full amount by instalments.

For Mr Rahman, the conclusion of his work injury claim process is bittersweet, as it means he can no longer remain in Singapore and will have to leave soon.

"It is difficult to continue with surgeries in my own country because they don't have the facility," he said.

"What I used to be able to do last time, I cannot do now. I cannot work in normal jobs," he said. "I want to be normal again."

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